Initial Publication Date: November 22, 2010

Lab 4: It's All Connected: Global Circulation

This lab was adapted from the NASA Ocean Motion activity Navigating the Ocean


Everything is connected. The ocean influences climate in many ways by exchanging heat, water, and chemical compounds with the atmosphere. Image source:NASA/Ocean Motion.
Energy from the sun heats the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land surface, and fuels most of the biosphere. Differences in the amount of energy absorbed in different locations around the world set the atmosphere and oceans in motion and help determine their overall temperature and chemical structure. These motions, such as wind patterns and ocean currents, redistribute matter and energy throughout Earth's environment. Water melts, evaporates, condenses, and freezes, and is moved from place to place in the atmosphere, the oceans, across the land surface, and through soil and rocks.

The global scale encompasses the whole Earth, all of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere. Within the global Earth system, interactions at local and regional scales contribute to how each of the four major components of the Earth system interact with each other as a whole at the global scale. Oceanic and atmospheric circulation redistribute energy, water, and other materials through the Earth system. This plays an essential role in sustaining life by moderating climate over much of the Earth's surface. Oceanic and atmospheric circulations exist on a wide range of time and space scales. Examples of atmospheric circulations include weather systems, hurricanes, jet streams, the Hadley cell, and the Southern Oscillation. Examples of oceanic circulations include thermohaline circulation, the Gulf Stream, gyres, and surface currents.

After completing this investigation, you should be able to:

  • trace pathways of wind and water on a world map to and from your region, and across an ocean to other parts of the Earth;
  • describe specifically how your region is connected as a system to others across the Earth by identifying what your wind and water carry and where the wind and water go; and
  • write about what activities in your region might affect other regions, and what activities in other regions might affect yours.

Keeping Track of What You Learn

Throughout these labs, you will find two kinds of questions.
  • Checking In questions are intended to keep you engaged and focused on key concepts and to allow you to periodically check if the material is making sense. These questions are often accompanied by hints or answers to let you know if you are on the right track.
  • Stop and Think questions are intended to help your teacher assess your understanding of the key concepts and skills you should be learning from the lab activities and readings.
Your teacher will let you know which answers you should record and turn in.