STEAM Snack: Beach Day Currents

Summer! I know many people take the opportunity during summer to visit the ocean.  We thought having a STEAM activity to go along with our beach plans would be a fun way to start our summer.  There are so many topics to talk about with the ocean, so this time we are focusing on currents, let us carry you away.

Why Currents?

Currents are important to ocean life, global weather, and for shipping.  Environmentalist can study currents to learn how pollution is transported around the world.  Humans and sea-life have been using currents to travel the world forever, and it is important to learn how we are all connected.

What if I’m not an expert?

During this activity you are going to show the girls the basics of how currents work, hot and cold water.  There is a great TedEd talk that explains currents in a fun way for adults and kids.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4pWafuvdrY&t=35s

Don’t feel like you need to explain everything, you are not expected to know it all, share videos you find that are created by the experts.  If the girls have a question you don’t know the answer to, take a breath and ask you favorite search engine.  Please take a moment to look at the source before sharing with the girls, not everything on the internet is fact.

Here are some discussion questions to get the girls thinking about the science of sound:

  • How does the currents impact you?
  • How do you impact the ocean?
  • How does sea-life use ocean currents?
  • How can we help the ocean?

How do I get started?

Materials you need:

  • Clear Bowl
  • 2 cups
  • Eyedropper
  • Hot and cold water
  • Blue food coloring
  • Salt
  • Paper
  • Crayons/markers
  • Pencil

Take the time to try out the demonstration ahead of time to make sure you don’t have too many surprises when showing the girls. 

The Badges:

  • Daisy:
  • Brownie: Eco Friend Step 1
  • Junior: Animal Habitats Step 2
  • Cadette:
  • Senior:
  • Ambassador:

Demonstration 1: What is a current?

The Science

The water in the ocean is always moving, thanks to two types of currents – surface and deep.

Surface currents are moved by the winds in the area and affect the top of the ocean.  These currents usually push water towards land and create the waves we see.

Deep currents are made by the sinking of cold water from the earth’s poles, which then drifts to the equator, warms up and rises to the surface and then drifts to the poles again.  There is now a cycle of warming rising water and cold sinking water around the world’s oceans.

We are going to do a demonstration to simulate deep water currents in a glass.  

Step One: Fill one of the cups with half a cup of cold water.  Add a teaspoon of salt and several drops of food coloring.  Fill the other cup with half a cup of warm water and add a teaspoon of salt plus several drops of food coloring mix both cubs well.  Keep them separate.

Step Two: In the bowl, mix one cup of cold water with one tablespoon of salt and mix well.  Now use the eyedropper to slowly add some of the warm blue water and observe what happens.  Once you have done your observations, pour the water out

Step Three: In the bowl, mix one cup of warm water with one tablespoon of salt and mix well.  Now, use the eyedropper to slowly add some of the cold blue water and observe what happens.  Once you are done with your observations, pour the water out. 

What do you see?

You should see that the warm colored water rose to the top as it mixed with the cold water.  You should see that the cold colored water sank to the bottom as it mixed with the warm water.

Explanation

The currents you are observing are convection currents, they are found in the deep waters of the ocean.  Cold water sinks and hot water rises creating movement, or currents, in the ocean.

Activity 1: Who uses Currents?

The Science

Ocean currents flow like huge rivers, sweeping along predictable paths, some are deep, some are at the surface, and some are short, other cross oceans and even the globe. 

Currents help control the climate and are also critical important to sea life.  They carry nutrients and food to organisms that live permanently attached in one place and carry ocean life to new places.

Ocean currents serve as giant highways, helping move migrating animals around the ocean quickly in search of their next meal.  Many animals, especially large ones like wales, sharks, and sea turtles, follow ocean currents to and from their feeding and breeding grounds.

Often you will find smaller animals following the large ones around the currents.  They will tag along for protection and also to gobble up scraps of food, dead skin, and other things to eat. 

Humans have used ocean currents to explore the Earth, they affect the shipping industry.  Many of the items we buy have spent time on a ship in the currents.  Commercial and recreational fishing and recreational sailors use the current to navigate the oceans and find their catches. 

Ocean currents also play a role in moving pollution around.  Oil spills and trash travel around the oceans on the currents.  Debris from Japan after the tsunami years ago washed up on Pacific Northwest beaches. 

We will now create our own ocean current super highway. 

Step One: Brainstorm a list of marine life that uses currents

  • Animals who use currents: whales, sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, seals, fish, plankton (plants and animals), krill, eggs, larvae, manta rays, shrimp, sunfish, eels, dolphins, lizards. Other items in the currents: ships, nets, trash, oil, trees, debris.

Step Two: Decide who will be in your current and draw them on your paper. 

  • Keep in mind how the animals might interact with each other.  Who is using the current to travel? Who is using it to find food?
  • You can have the girls draw their current or cut out pictures and make it more like a collage. 

Step Three: Share your current with the group.

Wrap up:

Scientist think that we have only explored 5% of the Earth’s oceans.  What would you like to explore and discover?

An Oceanic Snack

Dolphins are a favorite ocean animal for many and here is an easy way to create a adorable snack that is easy and healthy.

Step One: Cut a banana in half.

Step Two: Cut a slit on the stem to make a “mouth”. 

Step Three: Stick a blueberry or other small fruit in the mouth or even a goldfish cracker. 

Step Four: place hungry dolphin into a cup or small bowl filled with fruit.

Some inspiration for your bananas

Now that you know all about currents, share what you learned and let us know in the comments below!