Earth's Systems

Monitoring Life in the Rocky Intertidal Ecosystem

The five national marine sanctuaries along the West Coast monitor the health of the rocky intertidal ecosystem. One way of doing this is to collect data on the relative abundance of the organisms living in that ecosystem. Since this is such a big task, the national marine sanctuaries are training students in how to follow standardized protocols to help with the monitoring. The information collected is added to an online database that the sanctuaries use to collect baseline data and track long-term changes in the environment. This activity will allow you to learn the sampling techniques used in the field by these citizen scientists who participate in LiMPETS.

Natural Gas Formation

Natural gas, which is mostly methane, is an energy resource used for generating electricity and heating, powering transportation, and manufacturing products. Right now, one-quarter of the world’s energy comes from natural gas. In this investigation, you will make a simple model of how gases can form from decaying material. You will also explore the effects of temperature on gas formation.

Ocean Acidification

The ocean is a “carbon sink,” which means that it removes CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere. The ocean currently absorbs about one-third of the CO2 released by the burning of fossil fuels.

However, beyond a certain level of atmospheric CO2, the ocean can no longer act as a carbon sink without it having a negative impact on marine life. When CO2 dissolves in seawater, it leads to decreased pH levels. The ocean becomes less alkaline. This is referred to as ocean acidification.

Ocean Currents

In this activity, students will learn the pattern of major ocean currents and how they are changed by wind, land and water.

Oil Trap Model

Discuss how a 3-D model illustrates the geology of oil deposits. What challenges do you think petroleum geologists must overcome to recover oil?

Particle Size and Oil Production

What factors affect how easily a fluid can move through sediments? How is this flow rate connected to oil production? In this investigation, you will explore the permeabilities of different materials. You will then use your observations to determine what affects permeability and how this might relate to oil production.

Properties of Fluids in Reservoirs

Petroleum geologists play a vital role in locating energy resources. They use a variety of methods to collect the data they need to find reservoirs of oil and natural gas. When they find these reservoirs, petroleum geologists need to calculate their volume. They also need to estimate how much they can recover (remove) from the reservoir. This helps them to determine the possible value of the discovery. By using a model, this investigation will help you to understand the physical relationships between natural gas, oil, and water in a reservoir and how these relationships can affect recovery.

Properties of Fresh Water and Sea Water

The students will set up three demonstrations to observe the properties of water. They will explore the boiling point of water, the freezing point of water, and the ability of water to store heat. These activities can be done individually or as a set.

Rock Abrasion

Rocks break down into smaller pieces through weathering. Rocks and sediment grinding against each other wear away surfaces. This type of weathering is called abrasion, and it happens as wind and water rush over rocks. The rocks become smoother as rough and jagged edges break off. In this activity, you will model how abrasion works.

Sea and Ice Salinity

What is sea ice? It is simply frozen ocean water. Why is sea ice important? While it occurs mainly in polar regions, sea ice influences our global climate. Changing amounts of sea ice can affect ocean circulations, weather patterns, and temperatures around the world. Sea ice insulates the relatively warm ocean water from the cold polar atmosphere, except where cracks in the ice allow for the exchange of heat and moisture. The exchange of salt between sea ice and the ocean alters the density of ocean waters, thus influencing ocean circulation. Many animals, such as polar bears, seals, and walruses, depend on sea ice for their habitat. These species hunt, feed, and breed on the ice. Satellites provide the best way to observe sea ice, the factors that affect sea ice, and the ways sea ice affects global climate. Scheduled to launch in 2010, NASA’s Aquarius mission will measure global sea surface salinity with unprecedented resolution. Even small variations in sea surface salinity — the amount of salt present near the ocean’s surface — can have dramatic effects on sea ice, the water cycle, and ocean circulation.

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