Investigating Density Currents

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In this lab activity, learners explore how to initiate a density current. Learners measure six flasks with different concentrations of salt and water (colored blue). Learners calculate how much time it takes for the different blue solutions to reach the bottom of a 50 mL graduated cylinder of red water. Learners graph the results and relate their findings to ocean currents. This activity is part of a larger lesson plan on "Exploring Polar Oceanography: Ocean Currents and Climate Connections." [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 20 g salt
  • Water
  • 6 - 250 mL Erlenmeyer flasks
  • 7 - 100 mL graduated cylinders
  • Blue and red food coloring
  • Stirrers
  • Stopwatch or clock
  • Paper and pencil


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Measurement
      • Rate
    • Reasoning and Proof
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Sillis, Alan


  • All rights reserved, MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, 2011