Experiment Ocean Currents

Download the printable Experiment Sheet 

Ocean currents are the patterns of direct flow of water within the ocean due to variations in gravity, water salinity (density) and atmospheric effects (winds). Winds themselves are currents driven by the Sun and resulting convection, the rotation of the Earth (the Corealis effect) and topography of the Earth. 

This combination of drivers results in ocean currents that flow in predictable and orderly ways on a global scale. Current flow in both horizontal directions and vertically as downwelling or upwelling currents, which supply vital nutrients to marine life. 

The ocean currents act as a conveyor belt of energy, moving heat from the the warm surface waters of the Equatorial regions to the cold waters near the Earths poles. In general, cold dense (but fresh) water flows along the ocean floor from poles to equator, and warm light (but saline) water flows near the surface from Equator towards the poles.  

In this experiment, we will mix warm (light) and cold (dense) water together to see how they flow and mix in a simulated ocean basin. 

Materials:

Warm Water
Cold Water
Food Coloring ( at least two different colors)
Large Tub

  1. Fill the tub with lukewarm water.
  2. Color the warm water with one color and the cold water with another.
  3. Simultaneously pour each one in opposite corners of the tub and observe what happens.

    Questions to consider:
  • How did the different waters react?
  • What effect do you think temperature has on the water?
  • If we repeat the experiment with water that is fresh vs salty. Are the results the same?
  • Why do you think this circulation is important in the ocean on a global scale?

 

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