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NCA Education Resources for Oceans and Marine Resources

"Ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, broadly affecting ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life. Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of diseases in people and marine life." National Climate Assessment, 2014

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. This report collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform citizens and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.

Disclaimer:
The National Climate Assessment regional resources for educators is written, edited, and moderated by each team of contributors. Posts reflect the views of the team themselves and not necessarily Climate.gov, NOAA, or USGCRP.

Contributors:
Rachel Connolly, National Center for Science Education
Scott Carley, College of Exploration
Mona Behl, Texas Sea Grant
Frank Niepold, NOAA

Through its Our Changing Climate section and Climate Science Supplement sections, the NCA contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science. This content will support the integration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into science education.  The NGSS also asks educators to raise the teaching of engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry. In the Adaptation and Infrastructure sections of the NCA, educators can find information on climate-related problems and solutions, including those that draw on engineering design. The Decision Support section provides information on how decision makers across the country are using climate information to prepare for the impacts of climate change that affect where they work and live.

This webpage features key figures, related resources, and lesson plans, videos and visualizations reviewed by CLEAN for all the NCA key messages for the region.  The page contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science and the implications of climate variability and climate change for the Ocean.

NCA Report and Highlights: Oceans and Marine Resources
Report

NCA Oceans Key Message 1: Rising Ocean Temperatures

visit the full Rising Ocean Temperatures page

The rise in ocean temperature over the last century will persist into the future, with continued large impacts on climate, ocean circulation, chemistry, and ecosystems.

1. Guiding Questions

  • In what ways do rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change have the potential to disrupt ocean productivity?
  • What are four main physical and chemical changes the ocean may undergo due to climate change? What are the potential long-lasting repercussions of these changes?
  • Are there any groups in your community that are taking action to reduce these ocean impacts? Can you think of job opportunities that may arise due to the need to stabilize our ocean temperatures?

2. Key Figures

Observed Ocean Warming
Sea surface temperatures for the ocean surrounding the U.S. and its territories have warmed by more than 0.9°F over the past century (top panel). There is significant variation from place to place, with the ocean off the coast of Alaska, for example, warming far more rapidly than other areas (bottom panel). The gray shading on the map denotes U.S. land territory and the regions where the U.S. has rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, as defined by the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). (Figure source: adapted from Chavez et al. 2011).

Ocean Impacts of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
As heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) (panel A), have increased over the past decades, not only has air temperature increased worldwide, but so has the temperature of the ocean’s surface (panel B). The increased ocean temperature, combined with melting of glaciers and ice sheets on land, is leading to higher sea levels (panel C). Increased air and ocean temperatures are also causing the continued, dramatic decline in Arctic sea ice during the summer (panel D). Additionally, the ocean is becoming more acidic as increased atmospheric CO2 dissolves into it (panel E). (CO2 data from Etheridge 2010 Tans and Keeling 2012 and NOAA NCDC 2012; SST data from NOAA NCDC 2012 and Smith et al. 2008; Sea level data from CSIRO 2012 and Church and White 2011; Sea ice data from University of Illinois 2012; pH data from Doney et al. 2012).

3. Other Resources

Average Global Sea Surface Temperature
This graph shows how the average surface temperature of the world’s oceans has changed since 1880. This graph uses the 1971 to 2000 average as a baseline for depicting change. Choosing a different baseline period would not change the shape of the data over time. The shaded band shows the range of uncertainty in the data, based on the number of measurements collected and the precision of the methods used.
From EPA climate change website

4. Lesson plans

Climate Change “The Heat is On”
Found through NOAA
Addresses ocean acidity, melting glaciers, sea level rise, etc. (also applicable to Key Message 2, or just general). Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle, High School

5. Videos

Warmer Oceans Affect Food Webs
In this video, students learn that the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 was not the sole cause of the decline of species in the local ecosystem. Rather, an explanation is posited for why some animal populations were already in decline when the spill occurred. Many of these animals share a common food: the sand lance, a fish whose populations have shrunk with the steady rise in ocean temperature that began in the late 1970s. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle, High School, Informal

NCA Oceans Key Message 2: Ocean Acidification Alters Marine Ecosystems

visit the full Ocean Acidification Alters Marine Ecosystems page

The ocean currently absorbs about a quarter of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, leading to ocean acidification that will alter marine ecosystems in dramatic yet uncertain ways.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What human-caused actions have caused ocean acidification? What happens to the skeletal components of many marine organism when exposed to acidification?
  • How has this negatively affected entire marine ecosystems?
  • How could ocean acidification affect the economy of your local community?

2. Key Figures

Shells Dissolve in Acidified Ocean Water
Pteropods, or “sea butterflies,” are free-swimming sea snails about the size of a small pea. Pteropods are eaten by marine species ranging in size from tiny krill to whales and are an important source of food for North Pacific juvenile salmon. The photos above show what happens to a pteropod’s shell in seawater that is too acidic. The left panel shows a shell collected from a live pteropod from a region in the Southern Ocean where acidity is not too high. The shell on the right is from a pteropod collected in a region where the water is more acidic (Photo credits: (left) Bednaršek et al. 2012; (right) Nina Bednaršek).

Ocean Acidification Reduces Size of Clams
Pteropods, or “sea butterflies,” are free-swimming sea snails about the size of a small pea. Pteropods are eaten by marine species ranging in size from tiny krill to whales and are an important source of food for North Pacific juvenile salmon. The photos above show what happens to a pteropod’s shell in seawater that is too acidic. The left panel shows a shell collected from a live pteropod from a region in the Southern Ocean where acidity is not too high. The shell on the right is from a pteropod collected in a region where the water is more acidic (Photo credits: (left) Bednaršek et al. 2012;1 (right) Nina Bednaršek).

Figure 23.3: Increased Acidification Decreases Suitable Coral Habitat
Ocean waters have already become more acidic from absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As this absorption lowers pH, it reduces the amount of calcium carbonate, which is critical for many marine species to reproduce and grow. Maps show projections of the saturation state of aragonite (the form of calcium carbonate used by coral and many other species) if CO2 levels were stabilized at 380 ppm (a level that has already been exceeded), 450 ppm (middle map), and 500 ppm (bottom map), corresponding approximately to the years 2005, 2030, and 2050, assuming a decrease in emissions from the current trend (scenario A1B). As shown on the maps, many areas that are adequate will become marginal. Higher emissions will lead to many more places where aragonite concentrations are “marginal” or “extremely marginal” in much of the Pacific. (Figure source: Burke et al. 2011).

Other NCA Sections

Alaska, Key Message 4: Changing Ocean Temperatures and Chemistry

Hawai’i and Pacific Islands, Key Message 1: Changes to Marine Ecosystems

3. Other Resources

NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

What is Ocean Acidification?
This static image from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Program offers a visually compelling and scientifically sound image of the sea water carbonate chemistry process that leads to ocean acidification and impedes calcification. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower, College Upper, Informal

4. Lesson plans

Off Base- Acidity of Oceans
This lesson guides a student inquiry into properties of the ocean's carbonate buffer system, and how changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may affect ocean pH and biological organisms that depend on calcification. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle, High School, College Lower

Our Acidifying Ocean
This 3-part interactive and virtual lab activity examines the life cycle of the sea urchin, and how the increasing acidity of the ocean affects their larval development. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School

5. Videos

Acid Oceans
This video follows biologist Gretchen Hofmann as she studies the effects of ocean acidification on sea urchin larvae. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle, High School

NCA Oceans Key Message 3: Habitat Loss Affects Marine Life

visit the full Habitat Loss Affects Marine Life page

Significant habitat loss will continue to occur due to climate change for many species and areas, including Arctic and coral reef ecosystems, while habitat in other areas and for other species will expand. These changes will consequently alter the distribution, abundance, and productivity of many marine species.

1. Guiding Questions

  • How has climate change resulted in the loss or migration of marine habitats? How could this affect our economy?
  • Name two species that have already begun to undergo habitat disruption due to climate change. What could this mean for their futures?
  • Can you think of any marine organisms in your coastal community that have been forced to alter their range? What actions have local groups taken to decrease the negative impacts on this species and other species?

2. Key Figures

Warming Seas are a Double-blow to Corals
A colony of star coral (Montastraea faveolata) off the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico (estimated to be about 500 years old) exemplifies the effect of rising water temperatures. Increasing disease due to warming waters killed the central portion of the colony (yellow portion in A), followed by such high temperatures that bleaching - or loss of symbiotic algae from coral - occurred from the surrounding tissue (white area in B). The coral then experienced more disease in the bleached area on the periphery (C) that ultimately killed the colony (D). (Photo credit: Ernesto Weil).

3. Other Resources

NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Climate Change portal
NOAA Fisheries scientists are working to understand the effects of climate change and ocean acidification so we can minimize the disruptions they cause, adapt to the changes that are coming, and ensure that future generations can enjoy the benefits of healthy marine ecosystems.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Climate Portal
As the nation’s principle federal conservation agency, the Service is dedicated to helping reduce the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats. Our 8,000 employees specialize in wildlife management and ecosystem dynamics, and have an extensive network of partners who work alongside us to ensure the sustainability of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources.

4. Lesson plans

Keeping Watch on Coral Reefs
This activity identifies and explains the benefits of and threats to coral reef systems. Students read tutorials, describe the role of satellites, analyze oceanographic data and identify actions that can be undertaken to reduce or eliminate threats to coral reefs. As a culminating activity, students prepare a public education program. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School

5. Videos

Changing Planet: Ocean Acidification
This video addresses acidification of the ocean and the ecological and economic implications of the resulting pH change on marine life. It includes information about how ocean acidification resulting from increased absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere is affecting ocean species such as sea urchins and oysters. Scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara discuss their experiments with sea creatures in acidic sea water. There is an associated lesson plan and classroom activity that has students test the effects of CO2 on water pH. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle, High School

Stressed Out!
In this activity, students research various topics about ocean health, e.g. overfishing, habitat destruction, invasive species, climate change, pollution, and ocean acidification. An optional extension activity has them creating an aquatic biosphere in a bottle experiment in which they can manipulate variables. Direct link

Grade Level: Middle and High School

NCA Oceans Key Message 4: Rising Temperatures Linked to Diseases

visit the full Rising Temperatures Linked to Diseases page

Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of diseases in humans and in marine life, including corals, abalones, oysters, fishes, and marine mammals.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What are the three categories of disease-causing pathogens related to warming oceans? Give two examples of far-reaching impacts that temperature-linked disease can have on marine ecosystems.
  • Have you heard of any specific diseases caused by sea temperature rise in your community? Considering what you learned in this section, can you think of any particularly vulnerable local species that may need protection?

2. Key Figures

Harmful Bloom of Algae
Remote sensing color image of harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie on October 9, 2011. The bright green areas have high concentrations of algae, which can be harmful to human health. The frequency and range of harmful blooms of algae are increasing. Because algal blooms are closely related to climate factors, projected changes in climate could affect algal blooms and lead to increases in water- and food-borne exposures and subsequent cases of illness. Other factors related to increases in harmful algal blooms include shifts in ocean conditions such as excess nutrient inputs. (Figure source: NASA Earth Observatory7).

Note: This resource relates to a Great Lake, not the ocean, but has relevance/relation to the ocean.

3. Other Resources

Temporal changes in Caribbean yellow band disease (CYBD)
(A) Increase in CYBD prevalence in the Caribbean coral genus Montastraea in reefs off the southwest coast of Puerto Rico from 1999 to 2007. The inset shows the positive and significant correlation between the yearly increase in mean prevalence and the average yearly surface water temperature. (B) Seasonal variability in CYBD lesion growth rates measured in over 100 tagged colonies of Montastraea faveolata in La Parguera, Puerto Rico from 1999 to 2006. The inset shows the significant positive covariation between the linear lesion growth rates and the average seasonal surface seawater temperature for the same period. Error bars show +SE.

4. Lesson plans

Climate Change and Disease
In this activity, students research the relationship between hosts, parasites, and vectors for common vector-borne diseases (VBDs) and evaluate how climate change could affect the spread of disease. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School

5. Videos

Feeling the Effects of Climate Change
In this video, several scientists identify and describe examples of increasing health problems that they believe are related to climate change.

NCA Oceans Key Message 5: Economic Impacts of Marine-related Climate Change

visit the full Economic Impacts of Marine-related Climate Change page

Climate changes that result in conditions substantially different from recent history may significantly increase costs to businesses as well as disrupt public access and enjoyment of ocean areas.

1. Guiding Questions

  • Why should we be concerned about oceanic climate change causing disruptions to our economy? Which industries may be affected the most?
  • How do you think your state will be affected? Your community?

2. Key Figures

Observed Trends in Hurricane Power Dissipation
Recent variations of the Power Dissipation Index (PDI) in the North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific Oceans. PDI is an aggregate of storm intensity, frequency, and duration and provides a measure of total hurricane power over a hurricane season. There is a strong upward trend in Atlantic PDI, and a downward trend in the eastern North Pacific, both of which are well-supported by the reanalysis. Separate analyses (not shown) indicate a significant increase in the strength and in the number of the strongest hurricanes (Category 4 and 5) in the North Atlantic over this same time period. The PDI is calculated from historical data (IBTrACS) and from reanalyses using satellite data (UW/NCDC & ADT-HURSAT). IBTrACS is the International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship, UW/NCDC is the University of Wisconsin/NOAA National Climatic Data Center satellite-derived hurricane intensity dataset, and ADT-HURSAT is the Advanced Dvorak Technique–Hurricane Satellite dataset (Figure source: adapted from Kossin et al. 2007).

Past and Projected Changes in Global Sea Level
Estimated, observed, and possible future amounts of global sea level rise from 1800 to 2100, relative to the year 2000. Estimates from proxy data (for example, based on sediment records) are shown in red (1800-1890, pink band shows uncertainty), tide gauge data are shown in blue for 1880-2009, and satellite observations are shown in green from 1993 to 2012. The future scenarios range from 0.66 feet to 6.6 feet in 2100. These scenarios are not based on climate model simulations, but rather reflect the range of possible scenarios based on other scientific studies. The orange line at right shows the currently projected range of sea level rise of 1 to 4 feet by 2100, which falls within the larger risk-based scenario range. The large projected range reflects uncertainty about how glaciers and ice sheets will react to the warming ocean, the warming atmosphere, and changing winds and currents. As seen in the observations, there are year-to-year variations in the trend. (Figure source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

Energy, Water, Land, and Climate Interactions
The interactions between and among the energy, water, land, and climate systems take place within a social and economic context. (Figure source: Skaggs et al. 2012).

3. Other Resources

Climate Change Impacts on Marine Transportation

How Important is the Ocean to Our Economy

4. Lesson plans/Videos/Visualizations

Investigating the Effect of Warmer Temperatures on Hurricanes
In this activity learners investigate the link between ocean temperatures and hurricane intensity, analyze instrumental and historical data, and explore possible future changes. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower

NCA Oceans Key Message 6: Initiatives Serve as a Model

visit the full Initiatives Serve as a Model page

In response to observed and projected climate impacts, some existing ocean policies, practices, and management efforts are incorporating climate change impacts. These initiatives can serve as models for other efforts and ultimately enable people and communities to adapt to changing ocean conditions.

1. Guiding Questions

  • How have we begun to incorporate climate change concerns into existing management strategies? What are two ongoing examples of this?
  • Has your community taken any similar actions?

2. Key Figures

Fisheries Shifting North
Ocean species are shifting northward along U.S. coastlines as ocean temperatures rise. As a result, over the past 40 years, more northern ports have gradually increased their landings of four marine species compared to the earlier pattern of landed value. While some species move northward out of an area, other species move in from the south. This kind of information can inform decisions about how to adapt to climate change. Such adaptations take time and have costs, as local knowledge and equipment are geared to the species that have long been present in an area. (Figure source: adapted from Pinsky and Fogerty 2012).

Adapting Coastal Infrastructure to Sea Level Rise and Land Loss
This “mock-up” shows the existing Highway LA-1 and Leeville Bridge in coastal Louisiana (on the right) with a planned new, elevated bridge that would retain functionality under future, higher sea level conditions (center left). (Current sea level and sinking bridge are shown here.) A 7-mile portion of the planned bridge has been completed and opened to traffic in December 2011. (Figure source: Greater Lafourche Port Commission, reprinted with permission).

3. Other Resources

EPA Coastal Adaptation page

Also on Coasts Key message 5

4. Lesson plans/Videos/Visualizations

Responding to Climate Change
This is the ninth and final lesson in a series of lessons about climate change. This lesson focuses on the various activities that humans can do to mitigate the effects of climate change. This includes information on current and predicted CO2 emission scenarios across the globe, alternative energy sources, and how people are currently responding to climate change. Importantly, this lesson is motivating in showing students that they can make a difference. Direct link

General Ocean/Coastal Resources

4. Lesson Plans

Stressed Out!
In this activity, students research various topics about ocean health, e.g. overfishing, habitat destruction, invasive species, climate change, pollution, and ocean acidification. An optional extension activity has them creating an aquatic biosphere in a bottle experiment in which they can manipulate variables. Direct link

Level: Middle and High School