The Relationship Between Sea Surface Temperature and Hurricane Activity

Is your unit on climate and weather approaching? Here’s some research you can use to enrich students’ understanding of weather. It can help you make real-world connections from the textbook and classroom to the research scientists working to understand the science of hurricanes.

The news comes from ScienceDaily. The article, Increased Hurricane Activity Linked to Sea Surface Warming, explains how two variables, sea surface temperature and atmospheric wind field, were used to model the conditions under which hurricanes form. When they focused on temperature, the researchers found that a small increase in sea surface temperature, 0.5 degrees C, had a large impact on hurricane activity.

Mark Saunders, one of the researchers from University College London, emphasized,

Our analysis does not identify whether greenhouse gas-induced warming contributed to the increase in water temperature and thus to the increase in hurricane activity. However, it is important that climate models are able to reproduce the observed relationship between hurricane activity and sea surface temperature so that we can have confidence in their reliability to project how hurricane activity will respond to future climate change.

An impressive, aggregate satellite photo of several hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico during 2005 accompanies the article. There are also links to several recent, related stories.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

This news article connects directly to the Earth and Space Sciencecontent standard for grades 5-8 of the National Science Education Standards, which includes this fundamental concept: “Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate, because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.” The reported research also connects to the Science as Inquiry content standard.

If your students already have a good understanding of the science of hurricanes, ask them what they think would be different about the world’s hurricanes if the sea surface temperature increased just a half degree C. How do they think one could investigate that question? What other variables need to be considered? What other existing evidence could be used to inform one’s hypotheses? Suggest that they might look at the history of hurricanes and the sea surface temperature conditions under which they formed. Why would such an investigation be potentially useful?

Then show them the brief article and ask, What do you think Saunder’s intention was when he said, “Our analysis does not identify whether greenhouse gas-induced warming contributed to the increase in water temperature and thus to the increase in hurricane activity?” Lead students to the related ideas of methods of science, which include making inferences supported by the evidence. This research did not investigate what might contribute to sea surface temperature increases, only the effects of sea surface temperature increases.

Here are some additional resources that are part of the Middle School Portal 2 collection to facilitate your instruction regarding weather and climate:

 The Powerful Punch of  a Hurricane; El Nino and His Sister La NinaTracking El Nino; Detecting El Nino in Sea Surface Temperature DataOceans, Climate and Weather; Earth’s Oceans, and Ocean Temperatures.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published February 7, 2008 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 3/27/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

Inside the Tuscaloosa Twisters

As the nation mourns the many lives lost and altered by the recent supercell tornadoes, the NYT Learning Network and NOAA’s National Several Storms Laboratory are two excellent resources to help your students gain a better understanding of this deadly weather phenomenon.

The NYT Learning Network offers this comprehensive lesson plan entitled Inside Twisters that includes information on tornado basics, a warm-up slideshow for students to watch, discussion questions and a set of group activities. The lesson is correlated to McREL (and can be correlated to the new Common Core).  NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory also provides a wealth of resources and teaching aids including information on weather safety and weather careers.

Don’t forget to check out the MSP2 Resource Guide on Oceans, Climate and Weather, and the corresponding Weather student virtual learning experience on the SMARTR student site that includes videos, games and simulations on the topic.

Project Earth – Making the World a Smaller Place

Project Earth is a global networking website for K–12 educators and the public designed to connect people around the world to help solve environmental problems. Its mission is to generate ongoing conversation and collaboration across national boundaries that collectively lead to positive environmental change. Registration is required and member teachers/schools/classrooms are able to showcase their innovative environmental projects, connect and interact with ecologically-minded people around the world (from Minnesota, to Los Lagos, Chile, to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia!).  Teachers and students also have the opportunity to participate in environmental contests and earn recognition for efforts.

Last year, Project Earth’s World Environment Day Contest drew winners involved with environmentally conscious projects such as studying how plastic bags affect our environment, and growing food for a school kitchen and composting the waste. Submissions to the 2011 contest are due May 15th. A great project idea for your classroom!

A few  other resources to tap into on this topic include the MSP2 resource guides on Technology and the Environment, Populations and Ecosystems, and Oceans, Climates and Weather.

Citizen Science Project: How Much Rain Fell in Your Backyard?

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a network of volunteers working together to measure precipitation across the nation. Volunteers use high quality rain gauges and even “hail pads” to study hail storms. Volunteers post their daily observations on the CoCoRaHS web site. Observations are immediately available on maps and reports for the public to view. Hope you will get your classroom or family involved!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/18/2012.

Let’s Go Camping — In Antarctica!

My family plans on doing some camping this summer but nothing like this! Listen to the story of an 8th grade science teacher from Boulder, CO who got to spend a month in Antarctica.

Of Snow Forts and Frostbite: Learning to Work (and Play) at the Poles

What’s it like, doing research at the bottom, or the top, of the world? Hear the passionate stories of one teacher’s trip to Antarctica, and the messages he brought home to his students. Plus, hear stories of researchers battling subzero temperatures and dangerous conditions to gather data about the Earth’s climate.

List to the podcast.