The Feeding Frenzy : Seasonal Upwelling (6-8)


The goal of this teaching box is to teach students about the biotic and abiotic factors that drive the process of upwelling. Students will deepen their understanding of the dynamics that create a seasonal abundance of marine life in coastal upwelling zones. Students will discover this process through exploring the following:

  • Marine food webs
  • Primary food production in the ocean
  • Density and wind-driven currents
  • Seasonal changes in abiotic and biotic resources

By working backwards, students will discover that wind-driven upwelling supplies phytoplankton in the upper ocean (photic zone) with major nutrients (such as nitrates and silicates) from the bottom (benthic zone). This nutrient supply, coupled with long daylight hours, fuels increased reproduction of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton blooms form the basis of the seasonal feeding frenzy and rise in reproduction of marine mammals, seabirds, and fishes that occur in upwelling zones around the world.

In the early activities, the intention is that the teacher not directly tell students that the observed differences are seasonal. As students progress through the lessons they will discover for themselves that this abundance is related to the process of seasonal upwelling.

In the first activity students will set up a photosynthesis experiment that they will return to in the second week of activities.

From the menu at left you can access details about the supported concepts and standards, lessons with activities organized into teachable units, and a section describing the online resources used in the box for ready reference.

Goals of the teaching box

These activities are presented in a way as to emphasize the process of science. Students begin with observing a “big” phenomenon and progress through a series of activities and experiments that help them to discover the processes that created the original phenomenon. The intention is that students will discover these processes rather than be told by the teacher. Guided inquiry is used throughout to encourage students to struggle with paradoxes and search for answers to their questions. As a unit, this teaching box emphasizes the interdependence and cyclical nature of biotic and abiotic processes in the marine ecosystem, thus reinforcing the overarching concept: the Earth is a system.

Appropriate for

6-8 with optional extensions for 9-12

Time requirements

Teachers can select a suite of lessons that best suits their classrooms.
The entire unit can be covered in as few as 15 class periods and could be expanded to as many as 19 class periods.

Student web page

To avoid having students type in lengthy URLs to access online resources, we have developed a student web page for this teaching box, entitled Exploring Oceans. This page has direct links to each of the resources used within the lessons in this teaching box. We recommend that students bookmark this site for easy access.


Vocabulary, see pages 9-10 from Coastal Ecosystem Curriculum: Food Web (Adobe Reader required to open the .pdf file).
An understanding of currents and terrestrial food webs are helpful, but not necessary.

Technology requirements

  • Teacher access to computer, printer, copy machine, internet and computer projector/projector screen
  • Student access to computers with internet and Macromedia Flash
  • Computer with internet access and speakers to play audio clips for class
  • Adobe Reader to open the .pdf files.

Concepts and Standards

View concepts and standards associated with the lessons, (or use the Concepts and Standards link at left.)

Online resources

View a list of resources used in the lessons (or use the Online Resources link at left.)


Lesson 1. Marine Food Webs and Energy Flow
This lesson consists of six activities.

  1. Making Algae Grow: This is a preliminary activity in which students set up an experiment to determine the conditions needed for optimum growth of algae. The results of this activity will be used in Lesson 2.
  2. Ocean Surfaces Over Time : Students investigate ocean activity and hypothesize what might be responsible for the differences seen.
  3. Research A Marine Organism : Students research marine organisms from different trophic levels.
  4. Introduction to Marine Food Web: Students learn about food webs and energy flow in a marine ecosystem.
  5. Marine Food Webs: Students use interactive websites to discover the essential components to marine food webs.
  6. Class Marine Food Web: Students construct a class food web that illustrates the different trophic levels and the role of phytoplankton at the base of the energy chain.

Lesson 2. Primary Production and Upwelling in the Ocean
This lesson consists of three activities.

  1. Phytoplankton and Primary Production in the Ocean : Students discover the resources phytoplankton need to grow.
  2. Colorful Convection Currents : Students explore seawater density and temperature and are left thinking about how cold, nutrient-rich waters are brought to the surface.
  3. Upwelling and Wind Patterns : Students explore how wind patterns influence upwelling that brings colder, nutrient-rich waters to the surface, and they connect upwelling to plankton blooms and increased activity in the food web at higher trophic levels

Lesson 3. Seasonal Upwelling
This lesson consists of two activities.

  1. Upwelling as a Seasonal Event: Students connect the phenomenon of upwelling to seasonal changes in surface temperatures, chlorophyll production, surface nutrients, and numbers of marine mammals and sea birds.
  2. Re-evaluating the Five Ocean’s Pictures : Students re-evaluate the ocean surface pictures and apply what they have learned to explain the differences in the pictures.

Lesson 4. An Assessment: Read All About It!
This lesson consists of the final assessment in which students create a newspaper that communicates what they have learned about upwelling and the effects of upwelling on marine food webs.

Authors of this teaching box

This box was created during the summer of 2005 as part of a pilot project by the following professionals from the San Francisco Bay area of California:

  • Rebecah Davis
  • Susan Sherman
  • Debbie Farkas
  • Judy Scotchmoor


Contact DLESE support with questions or comments.

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