Who would have thought that melting snow cover in the Himalayan Mountains could alter the ocean food chain over a thousand miles away? Well, that's just what can happening, according to a NASA-funded study by Dr. Joaquim Goes, Research Professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. His research indicates that a decline in winter and spring snow cover over Southwest Asia and the Himalayan mountain range can create the right conditions for more widespread blooms of ocean plants in the Arabian Sea.
How does this occur? A decrease in snow cover can lead to greater differences in both temperature and pressure systems between the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Sea. The pressure differences generate monsoon winds that mix the ocean water in the Arabian Sea. This mixing leads to better growing conditions for tiny, free-floating ocean plants called phytoplankton. Phytoplankton serve as the base of the ocean food chain.
Can you share this amazing story with your students? Yes! Educational materials have been created by Annette deCharon, University of Maine Senior Marine Education Scientist, and her team to guide your students through the connections identified by Dr. Goes.
Classroom Activity Resources
Two worksheets (PDF format) are provided to have students "fill in the blanks": (1) a concept map that prompts them to describe the relationships between snow cover, temperature, pressure, winds, and phytoplankton blooms; and (2) a geographic map to help them understand the key spatial relationships. The use of these worksheets was piloted during an Earth2Class workshop.
In addition, an interactive concept map (below) has been created to illustrate these relationships. Clicking on concepts in the map will reveal related images, movies, articles and activities. Concepts related to snow cover, temperature and pressure are shown in red. Yellow concepts show how between pressure differences between land and sea drive monsoon winds. Blue concepts are related to the upwelling of nutrient-rich water along coasts that can fuel algal (i.e., phytoplankton) blooms. Green concepts show the tie between ocean chlorophyll concentration and primary productivity.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant # NSF OCE-0707385. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.
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