Just Add Water!

Part of Hall of Ocean Life.

Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life Educator's Guide: Activity

The ocean floor has a variety of geologic structures that formed as a result of the plate tectonics specific to the ocean crust. However, these landforms often resemble geologic features found on land.

Give your class a tour of the diverse landscape of your own undersea realm!

What you need:

  • modeling clay
  • large waterproof pan
  • blue food coloring
  • water

What you do:

  1. In a large waterproof pan, mold the clay into a landform model that includes topographical elements, such as mountains, plateaus, and deep valleys.
  2. Point out different features of the model with students by asking: What is a mountain ridge? What is a plateau? What is a canyon?
  3. Once you have explored the landform model completely, it's time to add water. Add the blue food coloring to the water, and slowly flood the model. Suddenly, the mountaintops have become islands.
  4. Students will discover the varied ecosystems and habitats that exist below water, such as trenches and the continental shelf.

Explain to students that the ocean may appear to be one big homogenous body of water from above the surface, but below the surface it has many different shapes and habitats-similar to the land above water.

Activity extension:

If you have access to a topological map of the ocean floor, lead students in a discussion of different elevation heights. Explore the ocean floor's seamounts and trenches. Discuss their heights and depths in terms of elevations that are familiar to the students, such as the height of Mt. Everest and the Empire State Building or the depth of the Grand Canyon.

Visit the Web sites listed below to purchase terrain models for the "Just Add Water!" activity.

Carolina Biological Supply offers a Landforms Model Set and a terrain model called the Water Cycle Model Activity Set. 
Sargent-Welch sells a Map Reading Model. 

Copyright © 2003 American Museum of Natural History. All rights reserved.