Winds and currents

Activity: Students explore the relationship between air and water currents in this ESRI geoinquiry appropriate for middle school students

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will describe how unequal heating and rotation of the earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates
  • Students will use the maps and pop-ups to characterize ocean currents. Variations in density due to variations in temperature and salinity drive a global pattern of interconnected ocean currents
  • Students will use remote sensing to identify warm and cold currents
  • Students will evaluate difference in climate between Wyoming and states along the west coast like Oregon and Washington and connect this to proximity to the ocean's influence

    Standards: 

    Wyoming Science Standards (2016) MS-ESS2-6: Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.  (This is also Next Generation Science Standard NGSS:MS-ESS2-6). 

    Natrona County School District S7.1.7 (Science, 7th grade):  Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.

     

    Instructions

    This is an instructor-guided activity. Begin by having the students go to http://atlas.wygisc.org. Click on the Science Activities tab, then click on the activity for Winds and Currents. 

    Now have the students click the link for the web map to begin exploring  atmospheric circulation. Use the instructions in this geoinqury to guide them through the activity.

    Connections can be made to a local context by looking at the regional climate in and around Wyoming. As the instructor leads the students through the activity, add the following connections to local places in Wyoming:

    • In the "Explain" section of the geoinquiry, students learn the land adjacent to cold ocean currents is often dry and can even be a desert [more about the wet Pacific Northwest coastal area later]. Oceans can also influence temperature along the coast, as well as rainfall. To see how oceans influence the temperature of coasts, have students click the Add button and type in "January temperature" in the search box, then click the + button for "Mean January Land Temperature" to add it to the map.
    • Have students compare the temperature in Wyoming (highest green pin) to the temperature along the western coast of the U.S. Why is it warmer along the west cost? [When the earth's surface cools or is heated by the sun, the temperature change is greater - and faster - over the land than over the oceans. Because it is a fluid, the ocean diffuses the effects of a temperature change. One consequence of the ocean's ability to absorb more heat is that when an area of ocean becomes warmer or cooler than usual, it takes much longer for that area to revert to "normal" than it would for a land area. This also explains why "maritime" climates tend to be less extreme than "continental" ones, with smaller day-night and winter-summer differences.]
    • In the "Evaluate" section of the geoinquiry, after students examine the prevailing wind directions, have the students come up with ideas for why the southeastern part of Wyoming is so windy (have them refer back to the Wyoming wind potential map at the beginning of the activity). By checking off everything except the Topographic map at the bottom, they can also see the division between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.  [The prevailing winds coming from the southwest are funneled by the Rocky Mountains into the plains of eastern Wyoming. Dry "Chinook winds" coming down off the eastern sides of the Rocky Mountains also add to the extreme windiness, as well as the relatively high elevation of southwestern Wyoming.] 
    • The prevailing winds also help explain why the coastal areas around Washington (Pacific Northwest) are so wet. [The prevailing wind travels west across the Pacific, picking up moisture. When these winds encounter the coast ranges and Cascades mountains in northern California, Oregon and Washington, the winds rise and cool, dropping their moisture.]