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Wind and Ocean Ecosystems (Project EDDIE)- adapted to provide greater autonomy for students in an upper level class

Author(s): Laura Reynolds

Worcester State University

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This module adaption focuses on the interplay between winds, ocean upwelling, and marine productivity. Students are able to select and download their own data and compare results among different sites.

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 24 Jun 2021 doi:10.25334/FGRB-4B64 - cite this

Adapted from: Wind and Ocean Ecosystems (Project EDDIE) v 1.0


This course was an intermediate oceanography course required within the environmental science major. I used this module in my first year teaching, which also happened to be during Covid, while teaching in a hybrid format. Since my students were mostly upper level, I adapted the module to shorten the introductory parts so that we had more time to focus on the more advanced components. I also changed the second half of the module to allow students to select and download their own data instead of using a previously downloaded dataset. The students were then able to compile their respective results and more broadly compare patterns between sites.

Project EDDIE Environmental Data-Driven Inquiry & Exploration) is a community effort aimed at developing teaching resources and instructors that address quantitative reasoning and scientific concepts using open inquiry of publicly available data. Project EDDIE modules are designed with an A-B-C structure to make them flexible and adaptable to a range of student levels and course structures.

Strengths of Module

This module introduces students to physical ocean processes in an inquiry-based way using real data. By having students engage with data to figure out for themselves the concepts of Ekman transport and upwelling, it forces them to apply those concepts throughout the module. The module also connects the physical processes of the ocean that are essential for marine science students to understand with the biological processes of the ocean that students typically care more about. This module also introduces students to wind rose plot interpretation, which exposes them to other types of plots and data visualization.

What does success look like

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • generate a wind rose plot in Excel.
  • be able to explain how wind direction and strength influence physical and biological ocean processes.
  • find a location on a map using latitude and longitude.
  • explain the relationships between wind bearing and direction.
  • convert between wind direction in degrees and wind direction using the cardinal and ordinal directions.
  • interpret a choropleth map.

In Activity A, after the presentation of discussions and readings, students will be able to find a location on a map using latitude and longitude. In Activity B, students will create a wind rose plot in Excel and describe how the dominant wind direction at a buoy station in the Gulf Stream impacts the direction and strength of the Gulf Stream. In Activity C, students will identify when upwelling occurs and describe how upwelling is driven by wind direction and intensity. In Activity D, students will visualize and explain the effects of upwelling on primary productivity.

Context for Use

This module was taught in an environmental statistics class in a computer lab as a means of teaching map and wind rose plot interpretation. It was taught over two 3-hour computer lab periods, which included students writing a lab report with 'results' and 'discussion' sections, with appropriate figures referenced, after completing the activity worksheets themselves. Activities A and B were run in one lab period, while activities C and D were run in the second lab period a week later. Students knew how to use Excel before beginning the module. However, the instructions on how to use Excel should be detailed enough that students with minimal Excel experience should be able to complete the module with minimal instructor guidance. This module would adapt well to an oceanography class where the primary goal is to teach physical oceanography. However, sections A and B alone could be adapted to introduce wind rose interpretation to an atmospheric-based class.

Description and Teaching Materials

Why this Matters:

The study of ocean organisms and systems is inherently interdisciplinary. This module reinforces for students the interdisciplinary nature of oceanography. Furthermore, by using existing oceanographic observation systems, this module allows students to experience authentic oceanographic research and garner a better understanding of how science is conducted in marine settings.

Quick outline/overview of the activities in this module

  • Pre-module work: Create an account with ArcGIS, online, outside of class
  • Activity A: Find latitude and longitude of buoys from the NOAA National Data Buoy Center in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and plot the buoys on a worksheet.
  • Activity B: Create a wind rose plot in Excel of wind direction and strength of a specific buoy in the Gulf Stream.
  • Activity C: Identify an upwelling event with buoy water temperature data, create wind rose plots of upwelling and non-upwelling events.
  • Activity D: Visualize upwelling with a choropleth map time series, look at MODIS chlorophyll data of upwelling and non-upwelling events.

Activity A

  1. Go to the NOAA National Data Buoy Center, enter in the station IDs in the "Station ID Search." Copy down the latitude and longitude of each station.
  2. Plot the stations on a map handout.
  3. Compare station locations to ArcGIS online to check locations.

Activity B

  1. Practice converting from wind direction in degrees to wind direction in bearing (using the cardinal and ordinal directions).
  2. Sort and process buoy data to create a wind rose plot of a buoy station in the Gulf Stream in Excel.
  3. Infer how wind speed and direction influence ocean currents through Ekman transport.

Activity C

  1. Identify an upwelling event in Monterey Bay, California, using buoy water temperature data.
  2. Create two wind rose plots of buoy data from Monterey Bay: 1) a 2-week period of an upwelling event, and 2) a 2-week period of a non-upwelling event.
  3. Compare the wind rose plots to determine how wind direction and speed induces upwelling.

Activity D

  1. Visualize an upwelling event in Monterey Bay, California, using a visualization of MODIS ocean temperature data in ArcGIS online.
  2. Watch chlorophyll concentrations in Monterey Bay, California, from the beginning of the year to the upwelling event, and describe how upwelling influences primary production.

Teaching Materials:

How to Make a Wind Rose Diagram in Excel (MP4 Video 390.7MB Jan13 20)


Teaching Notes and Tips

As wind rose plots are very different from other types of plots students typically encounter, it can be useful to walk the students through interpreting their plots either as a class or as they finish activity B to ensure they are interpreting the wind roses correctly. Students also tend use northerly, southerly, etc. wrong. They want to use those terms to describe where the wind is blowing rather than where it is blowing from. Be sure to double check with the students, when they use these terms, that they are using them correctly. Activity A can be skipped if students already have an understanding of latitude and longitude while still accomplishing the goals of having students engage in inquiry-based quantitative reasoning.

Workflow of this module:

  1. Have students create an ArcGIS account online before coming to class
  2. Give students their handout when they arrive to class
  3. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section A.
  4. Students can then work through the module Activity A.
  5. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section B.
  6. Students can then work through the module Activity B.
  7. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section C.
  8. Students can then work through the module Activity C.
  9. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section D.
  10. Students can then work through the module Activity D.

Notes on the student handout:

Potential pre-class readings:

Measures of Student Success

After activity A, students should be able to find a location on any point on a map using latitude and longitude. Consider giving students a quiz where they must denote locations on a map given latitude and longitude. After activity B, students should be able to create and interpret a wind rose plot. Consider having students turn in their wind rose along with a description of what it means for assessment or having students interpret and describe wind roses that you give them. Students should also be able to describe Ekman transport. Consider giving students dominant wind location from other locations on the globe and asking the them to draw their prediction of the current direction. After activity D, students should be able to describe upwelling, how it is impacted by wind, and what the ecological consequences are. In addition to having students describe an upwelling process, as suggested at the end of the handout, it may be useful to have students try to predict other major upwelling locations on a map and to predict how upwelling in that location will impact that ecosystem. It may be especially useful to compare against equatorial upwelling system, which forces students to think about non-coastal settings.

References and Resources

Price, J. F., Weller, R. A., & Schudlich, R. R. (1987). Wind-driven ocean currents and Ekman transport. Science238(4833), 1534-1538.

Huyer, A. (1983). Coastal upwelling in the California Current system. Progress in oceanography12(3), 259-284.

NOAA (July 17, 2019) National Data Buoy Center:

ESRI (2020) ArcGIS Online:

Link for ESRI ArcGIS Online Map used in module: EDDIE wind direction and current


I made several adaptations to the materials. First, all materials were converted to google docs and used within Google Classroom. Second, I shorted and simiplified much of Part A to save time. I also did some of the excel prep for Part B (first rose diagram) ahead of time to save the students’ time so we could focus on interpretations. I also had to update the buoy list/directions-- the data used is from a buoy that is currently adrift, so navigating to the historical data looks a little different now. 

Finally, for parts C and D, I had the students choose their own buoys and download the data themselves and then use that site throughout the remainder of the module. I added an additional exercise to the end of the module tying in the buoy data to ENSO. 


All changes are described in greater detail in the attached 'Implementation Plan' document.

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