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Topic(s):

Atmosphere, Biosphere, Climate, Hydrosphere, Oceans

 

Scenario:

Phytoplankton are the ocean's green machines. These microscopic photosynthetic drifters form the basis of the marine food web, regulate carbon in the atmosphere, and are responsible for half of the photosynthesis that takes place on our planet. Phytoplankton make life on Earth possible.

Plankton are divided into two groups: phytoplankton (plant forms) and zooplankton (animal forms). Phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain. They are literally "the grass of the sea". Phytoplankton blooms, population explosions, occur when conditions (sunlight level, water temperature, water salinity, etc.) are " right" and sufficient phytoplankton biomass and nutrients are available. The size, location and timing of blooms depend on a variety of complex factors.

Studying phytoplankton blooms is one way that scientists are monitoring the effects of climate change. Analysis of 1999-2004 satellite imagery linked a consistent decline in phytoplankton production to higher sea surface temperatures. Long-term trends based on observational and satellite data indicate that global phytoplankton concentrations have declined ~1% of the global median per year over the last century. Warmer ocean temperatures are affecting not only the size of phytoplankton blooms, but the timing of blooms as well. One recent study found that Arctic blooms are peaking an average of 50 days earlier than they did 14 years ago. Shifts in bloom timing and smaller blooms have implications for the entire marine food web.

Phytoplankton play a critical role in ocean, biological and atmospheric processes. Continued analysis of existing and new satellite data will provide additional insights into the effects of climate change on the size, location and timing of phytoplankton blooms. Understanding these effects will aid scientists in predicting how present and future climate change will impact life on Earth.

 

Task:

Basic: Recent studies indicate that global phytoplankton blooms are smaller. Smaller blooms could have significant implications for the fishing industry. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked your team to determine what trend, if any, can be established for spring bloom size in North American coastal regions over the last decade. Your team can choose any coastal region for study, but they are particularly interested in what NASA SeaWiFS chlorophyll concentration data indicate about recent spring bloom size. They request that you include an Earth System Science Analysis exploring links to changes in sea surface temperatures and potential local implications of your findings in your report.

NASA's Giovanni visualization tool provides access to more than 10 years of chlorophyll concentration and other ocean color radiometry data. You can select areas and time frames for exploration and generate and save visualizations. Chlorophyll a concentrations based on SeaWiFS data and day and night sea surface temperature MODIS-Aqua 9km data are available. Be sure to include all of your visualizations in your report. To learn how to use Giovanni see the provided demonstration.

Comprehensive: Recent studies indicate that global phytoplankton blooms are smaller and in some places coming earlier. Smaller and earlier blooms could have significant implications for the fishing industry. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked your team to determine what trends, if any, can be established for spring bloom size and timing in North American coastal regions over the last decade. Your team can choose any coastal region for study, but they are particularly interested in what NASA SeaWiFS chlorophyll concentration data indicate about the size and timing of recent spring blooms. They request that you include an Earth System Science Analysis exploring the causes and potential implications of your findings in your report.

NASA's Giovanni visualization tool provides access to more than 10 years of chlorophyll concentration and other ocean color radiometry data. You can select areas and time frames for exploration and generate and save visualizations. Chlorophyll a concentrations based on SeaWiFS data and day and night sea surface temperature MODIS-Aqua 9km data are available. Be sure to include all of your visualizations in your report. To learn how to use Giovanni see the provided demonstration.

**Note: Chlorophyll a concentrations are used to survey phytoplankon blooms. Instructions on using NASA remote sensing data are found here. Use one of the first four examples under the "Instructional Recipes - Oceans" section.

 

Date: 6/17/2013

Scenario Images:

Plankton Species
Different species of phytoplankton come in many different sizes and forms. They all get their green color from chlorophyll, the pigment they use during photosynthesis. Phytoplankton make up less than 1% of Earth's plant biomass, but are responsible for nearly half of Earth's net photosynthesis.
Images: NASA SeaWiFS and D. W. Coats



Temperature rise = Ocean Productivity decline
Between 1999 and 2004, rising global ocean temperatures (top) brought about drops in ocean plankton productivity (bottom). More... Image: Michael Behrenfeld, Oregon State University



Phytoplankton Bloom off Western Iceland
Every year, a massive phytoplankton bloom, a population explosion, spreads across the North Atlantic, moving from south to north and peaking in the late spring. This image shows a manifestation of the North Atlantic bloom west of Iceland. Satellite imagery allows scientists to monitor blooms using ocean color radiometry. Recent research results might change the way the scientists think about the timing and triggers of phytoplankton blooms. Image: NASA Earth Observatory



global chlorophyll
Like plants on land, phytoplankton use chlorophyll and other light-harvesting pigments to carry out photosynthesis, absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce sugars for fuel. Chlorophyll in the water changes the way it reflects and absorbs sunlight, allowing scientists to map the amount and location of phytoplankton. These measurements give scientists valuable insights into the health of the ocean environment, and help scientists study the ocean carbon cycle. Animation. Image: NASA Earth Observatory



Resources:

 

Shifting Spring: Arctic Plankton Blooming Earlier (Cycle A)
Summarizes the results and implications of a 1997-2009 study of Arctic plankton blooms. From The Washington Post.

 

The North Atlantic Bloom (Cycle A)
Provides an overview of blooms and the use of ocean color data in ocean reserach. From Goddard Space Flight Center.

 

Warming oceans produce less plankton (Cycle A)
As the Earth's oceans warm, the masses of tiny plants growing at their surface is declining, say U.S. researchers. From New Scientist.

 

What are Phytoplankton? (Cycle A)
Phytoplankton basics. From NASA Earth Observatory.

 

Bloom Triggers - Possible Shift in Thinking (Cycle B)
Most scientists think that phytoplankton are dormant in the winter and flourish in the spring because an increase of sunlight, warmer temperatures, and abundant nutrients. Recent research suggests that North Atlantic blooms might be connected to winter storms. From NASA Earth Observatory.

 

Marine Plankton Food Webs and Climate Change (Cycle B)
Explores the impacts of climate change on esturaies and coastal marine food webs. From the Virgnia Institute of Marine Science at William and Mary.

 

NOAA Reports Fall 2007 Plankton Bloom Failed to Develop on Georges Bank (Cycle B)
The fall 2007 plankton bloom failed to develop on Georges Bank, one of the region's most productive marine habitats, possibly reducing the amount of haddock in the area. From the North East Fisheries Science Center.

 

What Causes the North Atlantic Plankton Bloom? (Cycle B)
Understanding what causes annual plankton blooms in the North Atlantic could be key to understanding how these microscopic plants will respond to climate change. This Scientific American article explores changes in thinking about bloom triggers and the impact of climate change on sizes and locations of blooms.

 

World Ocean Review 2010 (Cycle B)
Comprehensive report on the state of the world's oceans and their interplay with ecological, economic and sociopolitical conditions.

 

Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science (Cycle C)
A climate-oriented approach for all ages. A guide for individuals and communities. Free download.

 

Earth Exploration Toolbook (Cycle C)
A collection of computer based Earth Science investigations. Each investigagtion uses one or more data sets and an analysis tool that enables students to explore some aspect of the Earth System.

 

NASA Climate Sites, Visualization Tools and Lesson Plans (Cycle C)
The following NASA sites provide in-depth information, tools and lesson plans exploring the causes and impacts of climate change:

  • Laboratory for Ocean Color Users - LOCUS provides a guided pathway to aid in the utilization of ocean color data for oceanographic and environmental research. Tutorial and more to make it easy.
  • Giovanni - The Bridge Between Data and Science - Displays Earth science data from NASA satellites directly on the Internet, without the difficulties of traditional data acquisition and analysis methods. User friendly.
  • NASA Climate Kids - Climate news, information and interactives for kids and teachers too.
  • Climate Time Machine - interactive - Go backward and forward in time and see how the Earth changes.
  • Global Climate Change - News, information, interactives, images, videos and more about climate change.
  • Eyes on the Earth 3D - interactive - Go on a mission with one of NASA's satellites. Learn how satellites work and explore the information they provide about Earth's land, oceans and atmosphere.
  • MY NASA DATA - Climate change lesson plans using NASA satellite data by grade level and topic.

 

Phytoplankton In Biospheric Processes (Cycle C)
SeaWiFS project page presents related graphics, questions and answers and suggested introductory activities exploring phytoplankton.

 

Studying Ocean Color from Space Teacher's Guide (Cycle C)
From Goddard Space Flight Center . A primer for using NASA data from space for studying the world oceans. Information about the why's and how's of remote sensing in ocean research. Has links to other resources and data sets. An older resource, but most links are still active.

 

Teach the Earth - Geoscience for K12 (Cycle C)
SERC's portal for K-12 educators. There are hundreds of classroom activities organized by grade level and topic, classroom resources and guidance on effective teaching.

 

Sample Investigations:

 

When is Dinner Served? Predicting the Spring Phytoplankton Bloom in the Gulf of Maine (Cycle A)
This chapter of the Earth Exploration Toolbook explores variables that influence the abundance of phytoplankton. Students obtain, graph and interpret data from buoy monitoring stations to predict a bloom. They compare their predictions with reality by obtaining and examining satellite images to view the full extent of the bloom over time.

Difficulty: intermediate
The activity may be used with beginners if time is spent studying how data is collected and used.

 

Ocean Currents and Sea Surface Temperature (Cycle B)
In this My NASA DATA investigation students discover the link between sea surface temperatures (surface heating) and wind-driven ocean currents. Although these are wind-driven currents, the water temperature marks the movement of surface heating, which can be seen and monitored by satellites. Students choose a series of dates from a 13 year period and analyze satellite data. It is suggested that they use the same 1-2 dates from every third year in the sequence to develop a pattern. The class can be divided into teams with each team assigned a specific ocean and the same dates to research.
Difficulty: beginner
Several extensions are provided for intermediate and advanced investigations.

 

Ocean Color Web (Cycle C)
Provides archived data and current data from several NASA satellites. Using various level browsers, students can explore and analyze data sets. Students can use this site to design and conduct research exploring relationships between ocean color (phytoplankton production) and ocean temperature for specific time periods over a series of years. Developing the skills needed requires some practice, especially on the Level 3 Browser where dozens of components for many years are available.
Difficulty: intermediate
Intermediate and advanced students with some computer skills should be able to access the data on this website.

 

 

Standards:

  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/nses/html/overview.html#content The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
    • K-12 UNIFYING CONCEPTS AND PROCESSES
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Evidence, models, and explanation
      • Constancy, change, and measurement
    • GRADES 5-8 CONTENT STANDARDS
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Properties and changes of properties in matter
        • Motions and forces
        • Transfer of energy
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Populations and ecosystems
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Abilities of technological design
        • Understanding about science and technology
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Populations, resources, and environments
      • History and Nature of Science (Std G)
        • Science as a human endeavor
        • Nature of science
    • GRADES 9-12 CONTENT STANDARDS
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Structure and properties of matter
        • Motions and forces
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Interdependence of organisms
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Energy in the earth system
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Abilities of technological design
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural resources
        • Environmental quality
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
      • History and Nature of Science (Std G)
        • Science as a human endeavor
  • Mathematics
    Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000 http://standards.nctm.org/document/prepost/cover.htm This set of Standards proposes the mathematics concepts that all students should have the opportunity to learn. Each of these ten Standards applies across all grades, prekindergarten through grade 12. Even though each of these ten Standards applies to all grades, emphases and expectations will vary both within and between the grade bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). For instance, the emphasis on number is greatest in prekindergarten through grade 2, and by grades 9-12, number receives less instructional attention. Also the total time for mathematical instruction will be divided differently according to particular needs in each grade band - for example, in the middle grades, the majority of instructional time would address algebra and geometry.
    • STANDARD 2: PATTERNS, FUNCTIONS, AND ALGEBRA
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to patterns, functions, symbols, and models so that all students—
      • use mathematical models and analyze change in both real and abstract contexts.
    • STANDARD 5: DATA ANALYSIS, STATISTICS, AND PROBABILITY
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to data analysis, statistics, and probability so that all students—
      • pose questions and collect, organize, and represent data to answer those questions;
      • interpret data using methods of exploratory data analysis;
      • develop and evaluate inferences, predictions, and arguments that are based on data;
    • STANDARD 6: PROBLEM SOLVING
      Mathematics instructional programs should focus on solving problems as part of understanding mathematics so that all students—
      • build new mathematical knowledge through their work with problems;
      • apply a wide variety of strategies to solve problems and adapt the strategies to new situations;
      • monitor and reflect on their mathematical thinking in solving problems.
    • STANDARD 7: REASONING AND PROOF
      Mathematics instructional programs should focus on learning to reason and construct proofs as part of understanding mathematics so that all students—
      • select and use various types of reasoning and methods of proof as appropriate.
    • STANDARD 8: COMMUNICATION
      Mathematics instructional programs should use communication to foster understanding of mathematics so that all students—
      • organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking to communicate with others;
      • express mathematical ideas coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others;
      • extend their mathematical knowledge by considering the thinking and strategies of others;
    • STANDARD 9: CONNECTIONS
      Mathematics instructional programs should emphasize connections to foster understanding of mathematics so that all students—
      • recognize, use, and learn about mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics.
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
    • THE WORLD IN SPATIAL TERMS
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
    • PLACES AND REGIONS
      The identities and lives of individuals and people are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical and human characteristics of places
      • That people create regions to interpret Earth’s complexity
      • How culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions
    • PHYSICAL SYSTEMS
      Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth’s surface
      • The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface
    • HUMAN SYSTEMS
      People are central to geography in that human activities help shape Earth’s surface, human settlements and structures are part of Earth’s surface, and humans compete for control of Earth’s surface. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth’s surface
      • The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth’s surface
      • The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement
    • ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How physical systems affect human systems
    • THE USES OF GEOGRAPHY
      Knowledge of geography enables people to develop an understanding of the relationships between people, places, and environments over time — that is, of Earth as it was, is, and might be. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future
  • Technology
    The International Society for Technology Education From http://www.iste.org and http://www.edtech.sandi.net/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=349&Itemid=229
    • BASIC OPERATIONS AND CONCEPTS
      • Students are proficient in the use of technology.
    • SOCIAL, ETHICAL AND HUMAN ISSUES
      • Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.
    • TECHNOLOGY PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS
      • Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.
    • TECHNOLOGY COMMUNICATION TOOLS
      • Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
      • Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.
    • TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH TOOLS
      • Students use technology tools to process data and report results.
      • Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.
    • TECHNOLOGY PROBLEM- SOLVING AND DECISION-MAKING TOOLS
      • Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
      • Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.
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