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Ocean Circulation

This activity was created by Dr. Karen Grove for use in the Introduction to Oceanography Laboratory course at San Francisco State University. This Starting Point page was Created by Robert MacKay, Clark College.
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students view and analyze buoy, satellite, temperature vs depth data to learn about ocean circulation and how it is related to atmospheric circulation.

Learning Goals

The Gulf Stream. A sample satellite image used in the Dr. Grove's Atmospheric and Oceanic Circulation activity located at the above link. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for an introductory oceanography course or for any geoscience course that includes a section on ocean circulation and structure.

Teaching Materials

All teaching materials are online at: http://geosci.sfsu.edu/courses/geol103/labs/currents/currents.home.html (more info)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity can be used as a lab or as a homework assignment. It takes students approximately 3 hrs to complete. Smaller segments of this activity along with individual images could also be used for interactive lecture discussion. Introducing basic ideas in class before the assignment is important to help students get started. Students questions related to the completion of this activity help build student interest in classroom discussion.


Online teaching materials contain student activities that can help promote student learning. These activities can also be used to help assess student understanding of key idea and concepts.

References and Resources

Dr. Grove provides references and links to additional resources at the bottom of the first page of this activity. http://geosci.sfsu.edu/courses/geol103/labs/currents/currents.home.html (more info) .


Geoscience:Oceanography:Physical , Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology :Atmospheric and oceanic circulation, Geoscience:Oceanography:Ocean-Climate Interactions, Chemical

Resource Type

Activities:Lab Activity, Audio/Visual:Images/Illustrations, Activities, Datasets and Tools:Datasets with Teaching Activities

Special Interest

Complex Systems, Visualization, Data, models, or simulations:Data

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Climate, Atmosphere, Oceans:Marine Chemistry, Currents, Tides and Circulation

Ocean Environments

Surface Waters


Ocean:Physical Oceanography, Climate, Atmosphere


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Oceanography, Atmospheric Science, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change

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