Daily Changes in the Ocean

This lesson will introduce daily changes in the marine environment due to normal and extreme weather conditions using real-time data of wind velocity, wave height and more information obtained from ocean observing buoys.

A product of Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System (GoMOOS) and the Gulf of Maine Area Program
Author: Jennifer Levin, GoMOOS, KMZ file created by Adrienne Adamek


  1. Download and install Google Earth software.
  2. Download KMZ file and open in Google Earth.
  3. Print out Lesson Plan (PDF) or use online version.
  4. Print out Student Worksheet (PDF)

Focus Questions:

  1. What sorts of changes can be observed in the ocean in a 24-hour period?
  2. Who might be interested in knowing what these changes are and for what reasons?


Students will be able to:

  • Recognize daily changes in the marine environment and their importance.
  • Read marine-related graphs and interpret their information into practical decisions.
  • Navigate Google Earth interface.


Students will:

  • Identify 5 kinds of changes that occur in the marine environment within 24 hours.
  • With each kind of change, conclude why people might care about this change.
  • Use Google Earth to explore the Gulf of Maine and access information on these daily changes.
  • Read and interpret graphs of wave heights.


Background Information:

This lesson focuses on the Gulf of Maine, although these daily changes are applicable to marine environments globally. Within a 24-hour period, many shifts occur in the ocean. Real-time data sources gather this information, and information technologists make it available to the public, primarily using the Internet.

The Gulf of Maine

The Gulf of Maine is a large gulf of the Atlantic Ocean on the northeastern coast of North America. It includes the entire coastlines of New Hampshire and Maine, as well as Massachusetts north of Cape Cod, and the southern and western coastlines of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia respectively.

Daily Changes in the Gulf of Maine

Each day many changes occur in the Gulf of Maine that affect sea life as well as the people who live and work around the water. In a single day, there can be dramatic shifts in the following ocean characteristics:

  • Wave height
  • Wave direction
  • Wind speed
  • Wind direction
  • Currents
  • Temperature
  • Visibility
  • Tides

Real-time Data Users

Following are some professionals who care very much about daily shifts in the marine environment and why.

Mariners: Commercial fishermen, sailors, researchers, oil tankers, and every other mariner who is dependent upon the sea for his livelihood needs real-time information on the conditions of the ocean. Information, such as wave height, wind speed, and visibility help ensure that mariners choose the safest routes and times to travel, thus avoiding injurious accidents.

Researchers: The flora and fauna in the ocean respond to subtle changes in the marine environment. For example Northern Shrimp are known to travel up through the water column at night, returning to the ocean floor during the day. Constant information on temperature, salinity, currents, and so on help researchers understand why behaviors like this occur.

Water Quality Managers: Daily shifts in temperature, tides, and wind direction can impact the spread and severity of harmful algal blooms. Water quality managers are responsible for warning aquaculturists, mussel harvesters, and the public when a harmful algal bloom, such as Alexandrium, is a likely threat to health and safety.

Emergency Responders: On shore, coastal emergency responders need to understand how severe a storm will be, especially as it relates to human safety, so they can appropriately warn residents and issue evacuation warnings, if necessary. Information on waves and wind, combined with tides, is critical to emergency responders. At sea, the Coast Guard uses sea surface conditions to plan safety and rescue missions.

Meteorologists: Especially to those meteorologists who are charged with forecasting weather along the coast, knowledge of conditions at sea is vitally important. Meteorologists look at wind speed and direction, as well as information on currents to make accurate forecasts. In the Northeast, nor’easters are severe weather events that are particularly tied to the sea.

Surfers: One of the biggest users of real-time data are surfers who look closely at the wave height, as well as direction, to know whether a trip to the coast will reap a great surf. Surfers actually study wave height and direction combined with coastal bathymetry to develop a picture of how the surf will break and whether they will be able to catch a wave.

Real-time Data Sources

The biggest sources of reliable and timely information on the conditions of the ocean are buoys that are moored in several locations in the Gulf of Maine. Many buoys are maintained by the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System (GoMOOS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other organizations.

Below is a picture of a GoMOOS (pronounce Go Moose) buoy and an image of the Gulf of Maine with the locations of NOAA and GoMOOS buoys. This lesson will focus on GoMOOS buoys specifically. GoMOOS currently has 11 buoys strategically placed in the Gulf of Maine (see map of buoy locations for detail).


The buoy photo above clearly displays the solar panels that enable it to be powered for six months at a time. Above-water sensors are also visible, such as air temperature and wind speed and direction. The schematic of a buoy below shows that there is a lot going on under the water as well. Buoys are outfitted with various sensors throughout the water column to create a picture of the characteristics of the marine environment. Buoys are outfitted with various sensors throughout the water column to create a picture of the characteristics of the marine environment.

Learning Methods:

Ask students to spend a few minutes independently brainstorming various changes that might occur in the marine environment within a 24-hour period. Students should then share their ideas, and then collaboratively brainstorm reasons why these changes are important to people, and who would be most interested in them. Use the list of changes above, as well as the various users, to spur ideas.

Students will then explore on-line resources through Google Earth that professionals use to help guide them in their decision-making.

For Further Exploration: have students:

Explore online buoy data at www.gomoos.org to study other perimeters that are measured on each of these buoys.
Interview real-time data users listed above to learn more about why they care about daily shifts in the marine environment and how their profession uses this information to aid in decision making.