Lesson plan

Water flow and Ocean Currents

Explore ways that water flows, and the patterns it makes, and how ocean currents are similar.
Science content
Biology: Indigenous People's sustainable use of Living Things (K, 2, 3)
Earth/Space: Water cycle, Water conservation (2)
Earth/Space: Landforms, Erosion (3)
Earth/Space: Sustainable practices, Interconnectedness (2, 5, 7)

Run two or more of the activities, optionally as stations that the students move through.
Ideas for overarching themes: Water Flow; Indigenous People’s relationship with Water and its connection all Life; Ocean Current formation; Animals using Ocean Currents.

The Stream flow and erosion activity shows how water flows downhill and carves out the landscape to make valleys and mountains. Flowing streams and rivers bring water to animals and plants and bring food to living things.

The Water flow with temperature and salt variation activity shows how global ocean currents arise.
The ocean currents cause upwelling of deep ocean water, which moves nutrients to the surface for life there. The nutrients feed algae and other plants, which feed krill, which feed baleen whales, as well as penguins, seals, and seabirds. Try this video on Antarctic krill - http://oceantoday.noaa.gov/animalsoftheice_krill/ (The krill themselves cause vertical ocean currents as they swim on mass to feed on algae at the surface. Nutrients are drawn upwards in their current.)
Ocean currents are also used by animals for migration. Loggerhead turtles migrate from Florida to the open ocean (where the young are safer), then return as adults. Atlantic Leatherbacks travel from Indonesia to Nova Scotia to feed on jellyfish. Pacific Leatherbacks have the longest migration on Earth: they are born in Japan, migrate to Mexico to feed on crabs, then head back to breed, nest. The Green Sea Turtle rides the East Australian Current, though does not go out into the open ocean (Crush in Finding Nemo).

The Turbulence activity show how winds change the flow of water on the surface of the ocean, and land masses change the flow of water to produce vortices (swirls of water). The movements mix up the water, bringing food to animals that can’t move, and moves nutrients and heat around.

Complex world-wide ocean currents result from the surface currents of the ocean conveyer belt combined with local turbulence - see them on the mesmerizing NASA perpetual ocean video: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/10841 or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEe1bVjORN4


Aboriginal Focus School did three activities: Erosion and Stream flow, Water flow with temperature and salt variation and Turbulence visualized, with discussion around the importance of water for First Nations Communities. Kindergarteners did a boat making activity, to see how water flow affects boats.
Simon Fraser did two activities: Water flow with temperature and salt variation and Turbulence visualized, with discussion focused on how ocean currents affect marine wildlife.

Lesson extension: On a world map, draw in the migration routes of turtles and whales (?give students countries/cities to join). Show them real migration paths (wiggly) so that they can make them look realistic. Add the ocean conveyer belt currents to the map, to see which ones the animals use in their migrations. ?Find the circles of ocean currents that form gyres.

Grades taught
Gr K
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Teaching Site
Fraser Elementary
Xpey' Elementary School (formerly MacDonald Elementary)