Learning Activities

5. Coastal Upwelling

Coastal Upwelling Learning Activity


This set of tutorials will incorporate datasets from a variety of sources to focus on coastal oceanographic processes and their connections to climate and biology.

Learning Objectives:

After successfully completing these modules, students should be able to:

  • Understand how multiple physical forces interact to determine water circulation
  • Appreciate the interrelationships between biological and physical processes
  • Describe the Biological Pump and explain its significance, including its role in determining oceanic nutrient distributions
  • Understand why upwelling increases productivity
  • Examine wind conditions to predict upwelling events
  • Identify upwelling events and phytoplankton blooms based on satellite imagery
  • Make connections between local conditions and global consequences


Students should have at least a high-school level math and physics background, and be familiar with introductory concepts related to remote sensing via satellites. A meteorological background is helpful but not essential.

Pedagogical Applications:

These tutorials can be used in a number of ways in various disciplines. Some suggestions are provided below. These modules:

  • will support ecosystem studies in ecology, marine biology, and oceanography classes.
  • will support efforts to explore and understand relationships between physical conditions, biological conditions, and global environmental conditions.
  • provide an example of nutrient cycling in marine systems.
  • provide experience identifying remotely sensed features and connecting them to local environmental events.


  • A)

    The Biological Pump and the Significance of Upwelling

    Explore how biological activity helps to determine vertical nutrient distributions in the ocean.

    Examine why upwelling boosts marine productivity.

    Consider how various physical forces interact to determine upwelling.

    Predict coastal upwelling events based on prevailing physical conditions.

  • B)

    Remote Sensing of Upwelling

    Predict the physical and biological consequences of upwelling events.

      Look at two common ways of detecting upwelling and primary production from satellite images:
    • Upwelling: Sea Surface Temperature (SST)
    • Biological production: Chlorophyll a (chl a)

    Examine SST and chl a satellite imagery to identify and connect upwelling and bloom events.

  • C)

    Upwelling and Remote Sensing: Other Considerations

    This module looks at:

    • Types of upwelling other than coastal
    • Factors that influence blooms
    • Accurate detection and measurement of blooms