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Content Benchmark E.12.A.5
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Earth Science
Atmospheric Process and Water Cycle
  E.12.A.1
  E.12.A.2
  E.12.A.3
  E.12.A.4
  E.12.A.5
Solar System and Universe
Earths Composition and Structure
Content Areas
Nature of Science (NOS)
Life Science
Earth Science
Physical Science

Students know Earth’s rotation affects winds and ocean currents. I/S

Winds and ocean currents both distribute energy (in the form of heat) received from the sun. Additionally, winds and atmospheric circulation are highly effective at transporting water vapor, either away from an area as it evaporates, or bringing it to an area in moisture-laden air masses which yield precipitation. Thus, it is important to understand the forces driving the circulation of Earth’s atmosphere and waters to aid us in predicting weather and climate patterns.

The circulation of the oceans is affected by variations in atmospheric circulation. Surface currents are driven by the force of the wind pushing on the ocean surface. The frictional drag of the wind on the surface layer of the ocean creates currents. Conversely, because of their ability to store huge quantities of heat and moisture, the oceans alter atmospheric conditions and the weather. For example, tropical storms form over warm ocean waters, which supply the energy for hurricanes and typhoons. The winter storms that bring precipitation to the western U.S. originate over the North Pacific. It is clear that forces at work in the atmosphere affect the ocean, just as forces at work in the ocean affect the atmosphere. If Earth was smooth as a marble, and was not rotating, the motions of atmospheric and oceanic currents would be quite simple. But, the earth is far from smooth, and it rotates at a speed of 1670 km/hr (at the equator). Earth’s rotation has a profound influence on patterns of circulation within both the atmosphere and the oceans.

 


Figure 5: Global Convection Cells (from National Center for Atmospheric Research, http://www.ucar.edu/learn/1_1_1.htm and http://www.ucar.edu/learn/1_1_2_7t.htm)

Ideally, warm air at the equator rises and cold air at the poles descend, creating two hemispheric circulation cells as depicted on the left of Figure 1. But, the trip between equator and poles is lengthy, yielding to the development of smaller convection cells in each hemisphere, as seen to the right of Figure 1. Initially, Hadley cells are created as warm air at the equator rises - creating a region of low pressure. The warm air begins it poleward trip, but becomes cold enough at around 30°N and 30°S latitude that the air descends, creating a region of high pressure. When the cold air reaches the surface at those latitudes, it travels along the surface back towards the equator. Similarly, Ferrel cells develop as comparatively warmer air ascends around 60°N and 60°S latitude and travels through the upper troposphere towards the equator to approximately 30°N and 30°S latitude where the air is cold enough to descend and complete the circulation cell. Polar cells also originate from rising air at 60°N and 60°S latitude, but in this case, the rising air moves towards the poles until it is cold enough to descend and complete that cell.

The Coriolis Effect prevents the air in the convection cells from traveling straight north and south paths. Earth rotates counterclockwise (as viewed from above the axis at the North Pole). In effect, Earth is rotating from west to east as the atmosphere is attempting to circulate from pole to equator. The result is a frictional drag that deflects the motion of air in the convection cells. In the northern hemisphere, the Coriolis Effect deflects air to the right of the direction it was traveling, while in the southern hemisphere, air is deflected to the left of the direction it was traveling.

For a demonstration on how the Coriolis Effect works, go to (http://uwf.edu/atc/projects/coriolis/main.swf).

Though Earth as a whole completes one rotation each 24 hour period, the speed of the rotation varies from equator to poles. Earth’s greatest circumference (40,000 km) is around the equator, and its rotational speed there is 1670 km/hr. At 40° N (or S) latitude, the circumference is 30,600 km, and the rotational speed is 1280 km/hr. A line of longitude intersecting these two lines of latitude will make one complete rotation in 24 hours, but the point of intersection at the equator must travel 9,400 km further during those 24 hours than the point of intersection at 40°N (or S) latitude, which means the point on the equator traveled at a faster speed. The difference in Earth surface speed exacerbates (greater near equator) or diminishes (lesser near poles) the Coriolis Effect. Earth’s uneven surface further complicates the deflection caused by the Coriolis Effect. In the plains regions (and across the oceans), there are few disruptions due to the relatively smooth surface. But, in mountainous regions, the land itself can deflect the moving air into more convoluted patterns.

For further information on how Earth’s topography influences wind direction and speed, visit the following websites:

http://www.stanwellcommunity.org/pdfs/wind/W09_Factors_Affecting_Wind.pdf

http://www.disaster-info.net/viento/english/presentations/structural2.ppt

http://www.uwsp.edu/geo/faculty/ritter/geog101/
textbook/circulation/coriolis_and%20friction.html

In general, between 30° N latitude and 30° S latitude, the winds blow from the east, and are called “trade winds”. Between 30° N and 60° N (and between 30° S and 60° S), the winds blow from the west, and are called “westerlies”. From 60°N to 90°N (and 60°S to 90°S) the winds again blow from the east, and are termed “easterlies” (Figure 2).

In the upper atmosphere (10km to 15 km in altitude), narrow bands of high velocity winds (jet streams) form, flowing from west to east. The polar jet stream occurs above the rising air between the Polar cells and the Ferrel cells. The subtropical jet stream occurs above the descending air between the Ferrel cells and the Hadley cells (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Convection Cells and Jet Streams (from Tulane University, The Ocean-Atmosphere System,
http://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/geol204/oceanatmos.htm)

Jet streams affect the weather as they meander above Earth's surface. In the northern hemisphere, when the jet stream meanders to the south, it brings low pressure centers (and associated storms) further to the south. When it meanders to the north, the high pressure centers (and clear skies) move to the north.

High pressure and low pressure centers are also influenced by the Coriolis Effect. In the Northern Hemisphere, as winds rush inward toward a low pressure center, they are deflected toward the right (Figure 3), creating a counterclockwise rotation (known as “cyclonic winds”). Both tornados and hurricanes are cyclonic. Winds rushing outward from a high pressure center are also diverted to their right (Figure 3), creating a clockwise rotation (known as “anticyclonic winds”). In the Southern Hemisphere, due to a deflection toward the left, the reverse is true (cyclones rotate clockwise and anticyclones counterclockwise).


Figure 3: Wind Deflection Around Low Pressure Centers and High Pressure Centers in the Northern Hemisphere (from Tulane University, The Ocean-Atmosphere System,
http://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/geol204/oceanatmos.htm)

As previously discussed, the winds have an affect on ocean currents. Frictional drag between surface ocean water and the winds in the six major convection cells around the Earth create currents. Water accumulates (piles up) in the direction the wind is blowing, while gravity works to counteract this accumulation and pull the water down. The Coriolis Effect then works to deflect the water to the right (or left, depending on which hemisphere) of the direction it was going, and induces large, circular currents called “gyres” in the ocean basins. Figure 4 depicts the build-up of water under the influence of wind and how the Coriolis Effect impacts the current (left drawing) as well as the generalized shape and location of gyres (right drawing).




Figure 4: The Effect of Wind and the Coriolis Effect on the Ocean Currents and the Production of Gyres (from Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California, Ocean Currents and Climate, http://earth.usc.edu/~stott/Catalina/Oceans.html)

On a global scale, the Coriolis Effect, in conjunction with winds in convection cells create several oceanic currents, as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Global Ocean Currents (from CUNY Geography, Ocean Currents, http://www.geography.hunter.cuny.edu/~tbw/
wc.notes/3.temperature/ocean_currents.htm
)

As an example of how ocean currents affect the weather, a warm ocean current flows along the coast of Peru every year around late December to early January. In some years, strong westerly trade winds in the equatorial Pacific push warm water toward Indonesia. This produces a large pool of warm water in the Western Pacific, and an event known as “El Niño” occurs. During an El Niño, the trade winds weaken and a wave of warm water moves eastward along the equator toward South America (Figure 6). This warms the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. When this happens, some parts of the globe experience drought, while others are deluged with rain.

For more information on El Niño, visit
http://www.learningdemo.com/noaa/lesson08/l8la1.htm

 

Figure 6: A Comparison of Oceanic and Atmospheric Circulation Between Normal and El Niño Years (from Tulane University, The Ocean-Atmosphere System, http://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/geol204/oceanatmos.htm)

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Content Benchmark E.12.A.5

Students know Earth’s rotation affects winds and ocean currents. I/S

Common misconceptions associated with this benchmark:

1. Students mistakenly believe Earth’s Coriolis Effect causes the water in a sink or toilet to spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

Too frequently, during discussions on the Coriolis Effect, students have been told that water spinning down a toilet or sink will move counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. This was even addressed in television animation (The Simpsons – Bart vs. Australia). In reality, the Coriolis Effect is too weak to affect such a small basin of water over such a short period of time. The direction the water will spin as it drains is due to the construct of the sink basin or toilet bowl. In the same building, some sinks could drain counterclockwise while others drained clockwise. The Coriolis Effect is more effective on the global scale and on long-lasting events, such as air or water movement in a constant direction.

The following website addresses this misconception. It, as well, points out examples of the media propagating the misunderstanding.

http://www.ems.psu.edu/~fraser/Bad/BadCoriolis.html

 

2. Students incorrectly believe all winds are deflected to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and all winds are deflected to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.

When students are taught about the direction of deflection in each of Earth’s hemispheres, they do not always grasp the aspect that the deflection is away from the direction the substance (water, air, projectile, etc.) was moving. If we were on Earth’s equator, a projectile launched from the equator toward the North Pole would veer to the right and appear to be deflected to the east, but a projectile launched from the North Pole towards our position on the equator would veer to its right and appear to be deflected to the west. The reverse would hold true between the equator and the South Pole. These animations from Wiley do a very nice job of discussing and showing how the Coriolis Effect works in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

http://www.wiley.com/college/strahler/0471480533/animations/
ch07_animations/animation1.html

http://www.wiley.com/college/strahler/0471480533/animations
/ch07_animations/animation2.html

 

3.Students mistakenly believe the Coriolis Effect affects the air of the atmosphere, but not the waters of the ocean.

Atmospheric motions due to the Coriolis Effect are more readily apparent than those motions caused in ocean waters. When students are taught about ocean currents, they often learn about density currents, but are not always taught that the Coriolis Effect helps drive currents. The following website provides comprehensive videos which thoroughly address the impact of wind and the Coriolis Effect on ocean currents. When utilizing this site, view first the video under the Lesson tab, then follow up with the video under the Global Impact tab.

http://www.learningdemo.com/noaa/lesson08.html

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Content Benchmark E.12.A.5

Students know Earth’s rotation affects winds and ocean currents. I/S

Sample Test Questions

Item Specification:  Identify that wind and ocean currents form global patterns based on Earth’s rotation.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. Surface currents are created
    1. as the more dense surface water sinks and less dense deep water rises.
    2. by frictional drag of the wind against the surface of the ocean waters.
    3. as surface waters squeeze between narrow passages separating ocean basins.
    4. when Earth’s magnetic field imparts a charge to the surface waters.
  1. Use the diagram to answer the following question.


(From http://www.homepage.montana.edu/~esci111/111erosion/erosionweb_files/image015.jpg)

    Winds in the United States of America generally blow from the
    1. North Pole toward the Equator.
    2. Equator toward the North Pole.
    3. east toward the west.
    4. west toward the east.
  1. A deflection of winds and currents resulting from Earth’s rotation is known as the
    1. Coriolis Effect.
    2. Greenhouse Effect.
    3. Tectonic Effect.
    4. Adiabatic Effect.
  1. In ocean basins, the Coriolis Effect creates large, circular currents called
    1. gyres.
    2. cyclones.
    3. typhoons.
    4. anticyclones.
  1. In the Northern Hemisphere, air from a high pressure system flows
    1. due South as the air moves from high to low pressure.
    2. straight upward because the pressure is so high.
    3. in a clockwise pattern due to the Coriolis Effect.
    4. in a counterclockwise pattern due to the Coriolis Effect.
  1. Use the diagram to answer the following question.


(From http://www.nmm.ac.uk/upload/img_400/currents.gif)

    Major surface ocean currents rotate in a
    1. counterclockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in a clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere.
    2. clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in a counterclockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere.
    3. counterclockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in a counterclockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere.
    4. clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in a clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere.

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. A hurricane in the Northern Hemisphere had a northward direction of motion.  Due to the Coriolis Effect, the hurricane ended up
    1. south of the direction it was traveling.
    2. north of the direction it was traveling.
    3. west of the direction it was traveling.
    4. east of the direction it was traveling.
  1. Use the diagram below to answer the following question.


(From http://www.ucar.edu/learn/1_1_2_7t.htm)

    An interpretation of the diagram reveals that
    1. Polar easterlies originate as air moves in a direction toward the poles.
    2. Trade winds originate as Hadley cells bring air towards the Equator.
    3. Ferrel cells circulate air between 30°N latitude and 30°S latitude.
    4. Westerlies blow wind from east to west due to the Coriolis Effect.
  1. Use the diagram to answer the following question.  On the top surface of the diagram, the warmest waters are the red-colored areas and the coldest waters are blue-colored areas.  Dark-colored landmasses are located to the lower-left and upper-right of the water.


(From http://www.learningdemo.com/noaa/lesson08/l8la1.htm)

    Ocean currents and temperatures in the Western Pacific can create an event called El Niño.  Which of the following is NOT a way El Niño alters normal conditions?
    1. A large pool of warm water forms in the equatorial region.
    2. The landmasses receive less precipitation and become dryer.
    3. Strong winds blow toward land from a mid-equatorial area.
    4. Rains move from the west to a central area above the equator.
  1. Use the diagram to answer the following question.


(From http://earth.usc.edu/~stott/Catalina/Oceans.html)

    The Coriolis Effect can affect near-shore currents as well as those in the deep ocean.  From these graphics, we can see or infer each of the following EXCEPT
    1. winds from the south will bring cold, nutrient-rich waters to the surface.
    2. surface currents are deflected to the right of the direction the wind blows.
    3. winds from the north create surface currents directed away from the shore.
    4. erosion of the shoreline is likely greatest when winds blow from the south.

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Content Benchmark E.12.A.5

Students know Earth’s rotation affects winds and ocean currents. I/S

Answers to Sample Test Questions

  1. B, DOK level 1
  2. D, DOK level 1
  3. A, DOK level 1
  4. A, DOK level 1
  5. C, DOK level 1
  6. B, DOK level 1
  7. D, DOK level 2
  8. B, DOK level 2
  9. C, DOK level 2
  10. A, DOK level 2

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Content Benchmark E.12.A.5

Students know Earth’s rotation affects winds and ocean currents. I/S

Intervention Strategies and Resources

The following is a list of intervention strategies and resources that will facilitate student understanding of this benchmark.

1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
NOAA has lessons to help students understand the Coriolis Effect as well as movement of ocean currents.

Coriolis Force
http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/03edge/background/edu/media/coriolis.pdf

Motion in the Ocean
http://www.nos.noaa.gov/education/kits/currents/lessons/ocean_motion.pdf

 

2. Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education
The University of Southern Maine has several lessons teaching about ocean currents.

Surface Currents
http://www.usm.maine.edu/maps/lessons/nr10.htm

Current and Climate
http://www.usm.maine.edu/maps/lessons/nr12a.htm

 

3. Science @ NASA
This website helps students better understand the Coriolis Effect. The site links to short movies which demonstrate the Coriolis Effect in a way which makes sense to students.

Spinning Brains
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/23jul_spin.htm

 

4. Eastern Illinois University Department of Geology & Geography
The site presents colorful, detailed graphics and explanations which help students visualize atmospheric processes and motions.

Atmospheric Circulation
http://www.ux1.eiu.edu/~cfjps/1400/circulation.html

 

5. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
NOAA provides activities to help teach students more about El Niño.

El Niño
http://www.oar.noaa.gov/k12/html/elnino2.html

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Benchmark
Support Pages

Misconceptions:
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Sample Questions:
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Intervention Strategies & Resources:
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