Deep-Sea Corals: NOAA Education Plans & Activities

Explore deep-sea corals in "Corals in Cold Water?" an Ocean Portal feature co-developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Habitat Conservation's Habitat Protection Division, the Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. The feature focuses on deep-sea corals and current, relevant research and conservation techniques of their communities. The interactive article includes numerous photo galleries, videos, and features on prominent scientists.

The NOAA lesson plans below are an excellent companion to the "Corals in Cold Water?" article. Explore the feature with your class, then dive into one of these classroom activities, each corresponding with one of the feature's five pages.

Several species of deep-sea corals form an underwater garden 165 m (540 ft) below the ocean’s surface off the coast of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Credit: Alberto Lindner/NOAA

Page 1
Coral reefs are vibrant ecosystems teeming with color and life. Most grow in the warm sunlit waters of tropical seas. Beautiful and accessible, shallow water corals are beloved by the public and well known to scientists. In contrast, deep-sea corals are generally unknown and unappreciated. Living in the icy darkness of the abyss, these creatures are difficult and expensive to study. For most of the 20th century, deep-sea corals could only be studied when fishermen accidentally pulled a broken specimen to the surface. In the last few years, scientists have used sophisticated submersible and underwater sensing technologies to penetrate the corals’ remote realm.

 

Grade Level: 7-8
Focus: Biology and Ecology of Lophelia Corals (Life Science)
Description: Students will describe the general biology and morphology of Lophelia corals, explain how these corals contribute to the development of complex communities, identify ways in which these corals are threatened by human activities, and discuss ways in which Lophelia communities are important to humans.

 

Page 2
Grade Level: 5-6
Focus: Bathymetric Mapping (Physical Science/Earth Science)
Description: Students describe three types of bathymetric map, and discuss how each type may be used by ocean explorers; compare and contrast bathymetric mapping technologies; explain why multibeam mapping is used aboard the Okeanos Explorer; and simulate a multibeam sonar system to create a three-dimensional map of a model seafloor.

 

Grade Level: 5-6
Focus: Engineering Design (Physical Science/Technology)
Description: Students discuss advantages and disadvantages of using underwater robots in scientific explorations, and how underwater robots are used aboard the Okeanos Explorer; use the process of engineering design to develop potential solutions for an ocean exploration problem; and explain the principle of hydraulic power transfer systems, and construct a robotic arm that demonstrates this principle.

 

Grade Level: 7-8
Focus: Bathymetric Mapping (Physical Science/Earth Science)
Description: Students explain the advantages of multibeam sonar, and its role in the exploration strategy used aboard the Okeanos Explorer; and use data from the Okeanos Explorer to create a bathymetric map.

 

Grade Level: 7-8
Focus: Ocean Exploration (Physical Science)
Description: Students will research the development and use of research vessels/vehicles used for deep-ocean exploration; calculate the density of objects by determining the mass and volume; and construct a device that exhibits neutral buoyancy. 
Hands-on activity: Construct an electronic force sensor.

 

Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Change detection in biological communities (Life Science/Mathematics)
Description: Students will define the concept of a biological community; perform calculations to identify communities from biological surveys; and describe how biological surveys may be used to detect changes in deep-sea communities.

 

Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Deep-Sea Exploration (Life Science/Technology)
Description: Students will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of remotely operated vehicles for ocean exploration, describe the general features of the Jason II robot, obtain data from Jason II missions, and analyze these data.

 

Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Multibeam Sonar (Physical Science/Earth Science)
Description: Students describe multibeam sonar and explain why the velocity of sound in water must be measured before maps can be created with the Okeanos Explorer’s multibeam sonar system; and interpret three-dimensional multibeam data of underwater features mapped by the Okeanos Explorer.

 

Grade Level: 7-8, suggested adaptations for grades 5-6 and 9-12 can be found on pages 14-15 in the lesson plan.
Focus: Ocean Exploration 
Description: This "Why Do We Explore?" introductory lesson guides student inquiries into modern reasons for ocean exploration including: climate change, energy, human health, ocean health, innovation, research and ocean literacy. 
Hands-on activity: Learning Shapes

 

Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Underwater robotic vehicles for scientific exploration (Life Science/Earth Science)
Description: In this activity, students will be able to describe and contrast at least three types of underwater robots used for scientific explorations, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using underwater robots in scientific explorations, and identify robotic vehicles best suited to carry out certain tasks.

 

Page 3 & 4
Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Paleoclimatological Proxies (Physics)
Description: Students will explain the concept of paleoclimatological proxies, learn how oxygen isotope ratios are related to water temperature, and interpret data on oxygen isotope ratios to make inferences about climate and climate change in the geologic past. 
Hands-on activity: Scientific posters

 

Page 4
Grade Level: 5-6
Focus: Hardbottom Biotopes in the Gulf of Mexico (Life Science)
Description: Students will define and contrast the terms “biotope,” “habitat,” and “ecosystem;” explain what “hardgrounds” are; describe major biotopes associated with hardgrounds in the Gulf of Mexico; and give examples of at least three species associated with each biotope.

 

Grade Level: 5-6
Focus: Benthic invertebrates that produce pharmacologically-active substance (Life Science)
Description: In this activity, students will be able to identify at least three groups of benthic invertebrates that are known to produce pharmacologically active compounds and will describe why pharmacologically active compounds derived from benthic invertebrates may be important in treating human diseases. Students will also be able to infer why sessile marine invertebrates appear to be promising sources of new drugs.

 

Grade Level: 5-6
Focus: Beneficial Microorganisms (Life Science)
Description: Students will describe at least three ways in which microorganisms benefit people, describe aseptic procedures, and obtain and culture a bacterial sample on a nutrient medium. 
Hands-on activity: Bacteria culture.

 

Grade Level: 7-8
Focus: Benthic communities on continental slopes in the Gulf of Mexico (Life Science)
Description: Students will describe benthic communities found at selected sites on continental slopes in the Gulf of Mexico, and explain the possible ecological role of at least three species that are characteristic of these communities.

 

Grade Level: 7-8
Focus: Morphology and ecological function in habitat forming deep-sea corals (Life Science)
Description: In this activity, students will be able to describe at least three ways in which habitat-forming deep-sea corals benefit other species in deep-sea ecosystems, explain at least three ways in which the physical form of habitat-forming deep-sea corals contributes to their ecological function, and explain how habitat-forming deep-sea corals and their associated ecosystems may be important to humans. Students will also be able to describe and discuss conservation issues related to habitat-forming deep-sea corals.

 

Grade Level: 7-8
Focus: Functions of cell organelles and the genetic code in chemical synthesis (Life Science)
Description: In this activity, students will be able to explain why new drugs are needed to treat cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammation, and infections; infer why sessile marine invertebrates appear to be promising sources of new drugs; and explain the overall process through which cells manufacture chemicals. Students will also be able to explain why it may be important to synthesize new drugs, rather than relying on the natural production of drugs.

 

Grade Level: 7-8
Focus: Bioassays (Life Science)
Description: Students will explain and carry out a simple process for studying the biological effects of chemicals and will be able to infer why organisms such as sessile marine invertebrates appear to be promising sources of new drugs. 
Hands-on activity: Bioassay

 

Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Relationship of hardground communities in the Gulf of Mexico to physical and chemical environment features (Life Science/Chemistry/Earth Science)
Description: Students will define hardgrounds and explain how they are formed in the Gulf of Mexico, and discuss the relationships between hydrocarbon seeps, chemosynthetic communities, and deep-water coral communities in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Paleoclimatological Proxies (Physics)
Description: Students will explain the concept of paleoclimatological proxies, learn how oxygen isotope ratios are related to water temperature, and interpret data on oxygen isotope ratios to make inferences about climate and climate change in the geologic past. 
Hands-on activity: Scientific posters

 

Learning Ocean Science through Ocean Exploration
Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Some benthic invertebrates produce pharmacologically-active substances
Description: Students will identify at least three groups of benthic invertebrates that are known to produce pharmacologically-active compounds; describe why pharmacologically-active compounds derived from benthic invertebrates may be important in treating human diseases and; will infer why sessile marine invertebrates appear to be promising sources of new drugs.

 

Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: Screening natural products for biological activity (Life Science)
Description: Students will be able to explain and carry out a simple process for screening natural products for biological activity, and will be able to infer why organisms such as sessile marine invertebrates appear to be promising sources of new drugs. 
Hands-on activity: Screening plant products for antibacterial properties

 

Page 5
Grade Level: 9-12
Focus: pH, buffers, and ocean acidification (Biology/Chemistry/Earth Science)
Description: Students will define pH and buffer, explain in general terms the carbonate buffer system of seawater, explain Le Chatelier’s Principle, predict how the carbonate buffer system of seawater will respond to a change in concentration of hydrogen ions, identify how an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide might affect the pH of the ocean, and discuss how this alteration in pH might affect biological organisms. 
Hands-on activity: Experiment with pH buffers

 

Educators' Guide & Resources
Grade Level: 6-12
Description: A selection of lessons from eleven NOAA Office of Exploration and Research-sponsored expeditions to explore deep-sea organisms and ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, plus lessons and additional background on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout event.

 

Tags: 
Education, NOAA, Corals

Related Video

Coral Forests of the Deep Ocean

Corals are not only found in shallow tropical waters, but in cold, dark, deep areas of the sea. Amazing coral forests are found at depths of 60-3,050 meters...

Photo Gallery

Seamounts, A Deep-Sea Habitat

This bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) has a fanlike shape. It is growing 1,310 m (4,298 ft) deep on the Davidson Seamount southwest of Monterey, California. Learn more about deep-sea corals in the multimedia feature "Coral Gardens of the Deep Sea."

Credit: NOAA/MBARI 2006

A submersible’s robotic arm collects gold coral (Gerardia sp.) in the Hawaiian Islands. Similar specimens have been dated at more than 2,700 years old.

Credit: NOAA-HURL Archives

Colorful corals and brittlestars on Manning Seamount off the New England coast.

Credit: Mountains in the Sea Research Group/NOAA/IFE

 

Scientist Martha Nizinski holds a specimen of a fan sponge (Phakellia sp.) collected at a deep-sea coral study site off the coast of South Carolina.   

 

Credit: D. Angell

More Information

Feature: Corals in Cold Water?Coral Reef Ecosystems on the Ocean Portal NOAA Multimedia Discovery MissionsLessons from the Deep: NOAA Educators' Guide

Post new comment