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Dynamic Planet

Division: B – Middle School

NC Essential Standards Alignment: 8.E.1

Event Rules: See National Rules Manual

National Event Page: Here


Participants will demonstrate an understanding of the large scale processes affecting the structure of Earth’s crust.  


Each team may bring a binder of any size containing information in any form and from any source.  Sheet protectors, lamination and tabs/labels are permitted.  No material may be removed from the binder when rotating through stations.  Each team may bring two stand alone non programmable non graphing calculators.  


High score wins. Predetermined questions will be used as tiebreakers.


Do ocean gyres have specific shapes to them?  For example, are the gyres in the Atlantic and Pacific different types of ovals?  If so, what determines any shape to gyres in the oceans?

It depends on wind patterns in the atmosphere.  The key answer is that the shape of the gyre is determined by whether the winds torque the water in a clockwise or in a counterclockwise direction.  In general this means that the boundary between the subtropical and subpolar gyres lies along the maximum of the westerly wind jet. In the North Atlantic, this runs somewhat southwest to northeast, while in the North Pacific it runs much more east-west. The southern boundary of the subtropical gyre is similarly associated with the maximum in the easterly winds.

Why do currents in the eastern Atlantic Ocean flow towards the south?

There are many processes at work.  However, the connection between the atmosphere and ocean (atmospheric circulations and wind driving ocean surface currents) is one key thing (see explanation above).  

Here is another useful resource:

What is the Gulf Stream?

– also the Gulf Stream’s ties to the Bermuda High –

Are whales and other animals affected by changes in ocean circulation due to sea ice melting?  Is whale communication impacted by changes in ocean properties?

In the polar regions and animals who might visit/migrate to polar regions at least, the answer is yes.  Ocean circulation changes impact the food chain, including animals that live in polar regions or visit polar regions if they migrate.


“Sea ice also plays a fundamental role in polar ecosystems. When the ice melts in the summer, it releases nutrients into the water, stimulating the growth of phytoplankton, the center of the marine food web. As the ice melts, it exposes ocean water to sunlight, spurring photosynthesis in phytoplankton. When ice freezes, the underlying water gets saltier and sinks, mixing the water column and bringing nutrients to the surface. The ice itself is habitat for animals such as seals, Arctic foxes, polar bears, and penguins.”

“Life thrives along the margins of sea ice, as melting and freezing enhance circulation and bring nutrients to the surface. Those nutrients nourish phytoplankton and ultimately animals like killer whales that are farther up the food chain. “

Regarding animal communication, the answer may be yes as well, but I haven’t done a ton of digging into it yet, so I’m not totally sure about details.  Check out as one place to start.

Event Resources:

Correlation of Stratigraphic Units

NASA’s Earth Observatory 
NC State GeoSciences YouTube channel.  Lots of great information on this channel!
Tremor Tracker for iPad
A model of Three Faults
Investigating Plate Tectonics with Google Earth
Discovering Plate Boundaries
Pinterest Board with great Earth Science ideas from the National Event Supervisor
Resources for topics NOT in this year’s rules:
Water Science – USGS
Photo Glossary of Glacier Terms
UMass Glacier Lecture Series
The Bridge – An ocean of teacher approved marine education resources
Project Oceanography
Oceanography: An Invitation to Marine Science