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Learning Goals

After engaging with the Data Exploration a student will be able to:

Context for Use

This exercise could be used in oceanography, biogeochemistry and earth system science courses at all levels, from high school to graduate school, depending on what aspects of the module are emphasized and how the module is scaffolded. For an introductory course, the activity could be used repeatedly throughout the semester as a challenge question that is revisited as new knowledge is gained, resulting in final conclusions by the end of the semester. For upper level courses such as a Physical Oceanography class, it might be a more stand-alone activity late in the semester, although students may still need to be reminded of some of the background knowledge required to piece the story together. For upper-level classes, this module may also be used as a springboard for discussion of geographic variation in carbon uptake and release by the ocean. Overall, this exploration emphasizes the crucial role of the ocean in Earth's carbon cycle and the double-edged sword that is the ocean?s ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

Teaching Notes


Invitation: As an introductory activity, you can:

  • Missing? carbon in the atmosphere
  • You've heard of ocean acidification; why is that happening?


Exploration Widget

Concept Invention:

  • Discuss what students have uncovered about the key variables that affect air-sea CO2 flux
  • Discuss mechanisms that explain how/why those variables actually physically change CO2 flux
  • Compare coasts; discuss role of upwelling?


Application Widget
  • (Part 2 of widget) Give students a set of similar data from an unknown site. Ask them to compare patterns in these data to patterns in the ?known? data to determine
    • Is this site a source or sink? What environmental factors cause this? (This question reinforces ideas learned during the Exploration and Concept Invention phases).
    • What region (East or West coast) is this site located in? (This question reinforces the idea that particular regions may be sources or sinks based on their environmental variables)
  • Using what they have learned in the Exploration phase, students could predict worldwide distribution of ocean sources or sinks. Depending on the level, you could either give students maps of temperature, windspeed, and primary production, or leave that up to them to remember.

Reflection: You could...

  • Ask students to consider where else in the world the ocean may be a source or sink, based on global variation in temperature, windspeed, etc.
  • Ask students to evaluate the impact of climate change on whether the ocean will continue to be a sink, become less of a sink, or become a source.

Subject / Topics

It requires taking information in one form, mostly graphs, and conceptualizing about the Oregon continental shelf.

Grade Level

Primarily intended for the advanced undergraduate level, but could be used in advanced (11/12) high school courses, introductory undergraduate courses, or at the graduate level depending on how it is scaffolded and what aspects of the module are emphasized. In introductory classes, instructors may want to have students grapple with one or a couple of the concepts and fill in the details for them on the rest. In more advanced classes students should be challenged to recall previously learned information and apply it to this problem. Instructors should be ready to jog their memories about the learned information.

Data Scope


Quantitative Skills

Science Explanation