Cold water is denser than warm water, so it tends to sink. Seawater is denser than freshwater. Salinity, temperature and depth all affect the density of seawater.
The ocean has a complex circulation system called the Global Ocean Conveyor. It moves water, heat, salt and nutrients around the world. Surface currents in the top 400 m are driven mainly by wind. Deeper currents are driven by changes in water density. Both types of currents work with the atmosphere to help shape the Earth’s climate.
Melting land ice and increased rainfall – as consequences of climate change – have the potential to disrupt the oceans’ chemical and physical properties, which will impact this complex circulation system. Learn more in the article Climate change, melting ice and sea level rise.
By the end of this activity, students should be able to:
- describe how temperature affects water density
- describe how salinity affects water density
- offer simple explanations of how climate change may impact the oceans’ chemical and physical properties.
Download the Word file (see link below) for:
- background information for teachers
- equipment list
- teacher instructions
- extension ideas/prompting questions for teachers.
Nature of science
In science, models are a visual way of linking theory with experiment. In this activity, students are able to visualise differences in water density. This fits into the investigating in science aspect of the NZC.