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 THE OCEAN SYSTEM

  Syllabus

Course Description

Student Learning Outcomes

Class Schedule

Instructors

Format

Required Textbook

Support Services

Grading

Weekly Overview and Expectations

Course Description 

Why is the ocean so big? Why is it salty? How deep is it? How does the ocean work? Starting with these simple questions, this seminar investigates this complex system by looking at the way its components — the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and biosphere — interact.

 

The course begins by considering how plate tectonics shape ocean basins and where the water that makes up the oceans originated. The ocean’s physical characteristics have framed the origin and diversification of life across a variety of ecosystems.  The course looks in depth at habitats such as coral reefs, mangrove forests, tidal zones and deep-sea hydrothermal vents, as well as the characteristics of marine organisms ranging from plankton to porpoises.

 

The middle section of the course examines the unique properties of the water molecule. The fact that water exists as solid, liquid, and gas and has extraordinary heat-trapping ability has important implications for Earth’s climate and local weather. So does the action of waves, wind, and density variations, which drive deep-sea and surface currents.

 

Learners emerge with an understanding of the role that symbiotic relationships and other biological adaptations have in the dynamics of oceans, and how this is threatened by human activities. Throughout the course, profiles show oceanographers at work with technologies such as ocean-going robots and core-drilling programs that herald a new era of ocean exploration.

Student Learning Outcomes

In this course, students will:

 

  1. discuss the components of systems in the context of the Ocean System;
  2. demonstrate their understanding of some of the procedures for studying hydrothermal vents by reflecting on the use of an interactive vent exploration activity;
  3. apply their understanding of evolutionary theory to discuss the evolution of plants living in salt water;
  4. demonstrate and understanding of the ways that oceans influence climate and weather;
  5. apply their understanding of the ocean system to reflect on the ways the humans affect this system;
  6. generate a plan for teaching data driven lessons about oceans.

Class Schedule

This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion.  The  course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.

For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar

Instructors   

This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.

For current instructor information, please contact learn@amnh.org.

Format

  1. The Ocean System is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. Enrollment is restricted to current or future educators. No prior course in evolutionary science is required.
  2. Weekly activities essays and textbook readings that immerse learners in the ocean system. Biweekly Scientist Profiles will add a human face to cutting-edge research and conservation efforts. Data visualizations, image galleries, and videos will help learners visualize and master the content. Computer interactives, image galleries, and videos will help learners visualize and master the content.
  3. Online discussions encourage reflection on course content, support and model the inquiry process, and sustain interaction between the offering scientists, seminar instructors, and course members.
  4. Final projects support the creation on inquiry-based lesson plans focused on a key course concept that you might incorporate into your teaching practice. For current instructor information, please contact learn@amnh.org.

Required Textbook

This course requires the following textbook:

 

Essentials of Oceanography

By Tom S.

Garrison Paperback: 464 - 480 pages

Publisher:  Cengage Learning (5th edition, 2008; 6th edition, 2010; or 7th edition, 2014)

ISBN:  0495555312, 0840061552, 1285753860

Support Services

Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing learn@amnh.org.

The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact learn@amnh.org if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Grading 

Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:

     

Course Assignments

30%

Course Participation & Communication

40%

Final Project

30%

  1. Course assignments will include reflection questions and written assignments.
  2. Class participation will be evaluated based on the quality and consistency of contribution to the discussion forum. The grades for participation will be posted two weeks after each question opens.
  3. Final Project - Application in the Classroom: This project allows learners to develop an application that could teach some aspect of the course content to students or other educators. The project may take the form of a classroom unit or a workshop plan (if used for professional development).
  1. Policy: Everything submitted as an assignment, project, or discussion post must be an original work. References to resource materials are expected and proper citation is required. Assignments are due on the dates specified. Late submissions will be penalized 10%. Revised assignments that incorporate your instructor’s feedback will be accepted until the course ends.

Weekly Overview and Expectations

Week 1: How Did the Oceans Form?

Oceans haven’t always covered the surface of Earth. How did they come into being? Where did the water come from, and how did it promote the existence of life on Earth? We begin our investigation of the ocean system by exploring the origin of the oceans and their related systems: the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere. We learn that these systems have been interconnected since their formation billions of years ago and continue to interact as a dynamic whole. This first week, we’ll also meet Dr. Adriana Aquino and Dr. Rondi Davies, the scientists who helped create the course.

Expectations

  • Review the course orientation
  • Understand what a system is
  • Learn about how the Earth and oceans formed
  • Explore theories about how life on Earth began
  • Learn about some of the factors that make Earth unique in the Solar System
  • Examine organisms resembling the earliest forms of life on Earth
  • Reflect on what we already know about how the ocean is connected to other Earth systems
  • Participate in the Icebreaker Discussion
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: What is a System?

Week 2: What Does the Ocean Floor Look Like?

We’ll start with a walk across the ocean floor, exploring its unique and dramatic topography, from deep trenches to mountain chains that stretch for thousands of miles. What happens on the ocean floor, and how does that affect the ocean as a whole? How can life forms exist in complete darkness on the ocean floor? We’ll learn about plate tectonics, deep-sea vents, and some of the organisms that inhabit this extreme ecosystem, to understand how the oceans and solid Earth interact. We’ll go on a “virtual field trip” to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and meet our featured oceanographer, Dr. Susan Humphris, to find out how oceanographers study the ocean, particularly the deep sea, using underwater robots and manned vehicles.

 

Expectations

  • Understand the difference between chemosynthesis and photosynthesis
  • Learn what happens when plates collide
  • Learn how oceanographers study the ocean floor
  • Consider how the transfer of energy from the deep Earth affects life
  • Explore hydrothermal vent ecosystems
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: Earth without the action
  • Complete the Assignment: Find a plume, find a vent

Week 3: What is Water?

If water didn’t possess a few remarkable properties, the oceans and life as we know it wouldn’t exist. How do the physical properties of water, and seawater in particular, relate to the entire ocean system? Beyond water, we’ll study the other stuff the ocean is made of: the elements that give the ocean its distinctive saltiness and the sediments that cover the ocean floor. Why is the ocean salty, and where did the salt come from? What are the different types of sediments, where do they occur, and what can they tell us about the history of the ocean and the climate system? A case study on mangroves will illustrate the numerous adaptations this tree species has undergone in order to live in the ocean and support a thriving ecosystem.

Expectations

  • Understand the properties of the water molecule
  • Understand the concepts of polarity, density, and heat capacity as they apply to water
  • Learn about the processes that make the ocean salty and the implications of variable salinities across depths
  • Learn what sediments tell us about the history of the ocean basin and Earth
  • Explore mangroves, one of the most productive ecosystems in the ocean
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: Trees in the sea
  • Complete the Assignment: Water experiments
  • Present preliminary thoughts on the Final Project

 

Week 4: How Does the Ocean Move?

The movement of the ocean, through wind- and density-driven currents, is a critical component in the climate system. How does it work? First, we’ll learn about the processes that drive surface currents, which in turn affect weather and climate, from monsoons to El Niño. Then we’ll look at deep ocean currents, which also play an enormous role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Finally, we’ll investigate the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle and how it all relates to global warming. Videos will address the ways in which scientists study climate and ocean circulation so that learners can more fully understand how scientists are trying to make more accurate predictions and assess human impact on these systems.

 

Expectations

  • Examine the processes that impact ocean current patterns
  • Examine how the ocean affects weather and climate
  • Find out some of the ways in which scientists study climate change through sediment cores and modeling
  • Be able to relate the weather in your area to the ocean
  • Consider how changing carbon dioxide and solar radiation levels could affect the planet
  • Learn how some species of fish have adapted to both fresh and salt water environments
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: How’s the weather?
  • Complete the Assignment: Follow that current?

 

Week 5: How Do Animals Live in Water?

The ocean is home to the largest known diversity of life on the planet. Through essays and several stunning image galleries, we’ll glimpse some of the amazing creatures that live in the oceans and learn about how, where, and what they do to survive in their marine environment. We’ll look at adaptations, from breathing to eating to reproducing, and the factors that determine their distribution. Then we’ll narrow our focus to plankton, the world’s largest known biomass and the foundation of the marine food web. Ultimately, we’ll learn that animals don’t just inhabit the oceans—they are an integral part of the ocean system.

Expectations

  • Find out some of the ways that animals have adapted to marine environments
  • Examine controls in the distribution of marine life
  • Understand what plankton are and their importance for life in the ocean system
  • Understand the connectedness of animals with the physical environment
  • Learn about the biodiversity and fragility of the coral reef ecosystem
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: Picture this
  • Complete an outline of the Final Project

Week 6: How is Human Activity Affecting the Ocean System?

The human connection to the ocean system is profound. We’ve already discussed some of the threats to ocean health, such as global warming and coastal erosion. This week we’ll survey some others, from pollution to overfishing. We’ll also review the emerging technologies and research methods scientists will use in the future to understand these relationships. Ultimately, how humans impact the oceans is determined by how much we understand about the system and how we choose to study it. A case study on blue whales will illustrate how little we know about a beloved sea creature very much threatened by human activity.

 

Expectations

  • Examine some of the ways in which human activity harms ocean life and interrupts natural ocean processes.
  • Understand the difference between observatory science and expeditionary science in oceanography.
  • Understand why ocean science is interdisciplinary.
  • Revisit the concept of systems to apply what we have learned about the oceans.
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: Interdisciplinary investigations.
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: What if we could manipulate CO2 levels like a thermostat?
  • Complete the Final Project.