Lesson Plan: Charting a Course

Authors: Zach Smith

Grade Level: 9-12

Subject Area: Earth and Space Science


Standards Addressed:

  1. Content Standard E: Science and Technology
    • Abilities of technological design
  2. Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    • Environmental quality
    • Natural resources
    • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

Time Required:

Three 45-minute class periods.

  • Period 1: Research web resources
  • Period 2: Plot and run course
  • Period 3: Share information with student colleagues

Lesson Goal:

The overall goal for this lesson is for students to chart a course between two places. They will have to consider tide, current, wind, and navigational hazards to take the most direct, safest, and most efficient route.

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to do the following.

  1. Use a marine chart that shows the route, and navigational concerns such as tides, currents, prevailing wind, air gap, marine hazards, established shipping lanes.
  2. Engage other learners by sharing their experience at executing a successful voyage.
  3. Discuss marine travel benefits and concerns.

Prerequisite Knowledge:

Our marine transportation system includes 25,000 miles of navigable channels transited by more than two billion tons of freight each year. Waterborne cargo contributes more than $742 billion to the nation's economy and creates jobs for more than 13 million people in our country.

The connection between the system and coastal communities and maritime industries is probably pretty obvious. In 2009, the U.S. exported more than $100 billion worth of agricultural products. Whether it is wheat grown in Stanley, North Dakota, or cotton produced in Pinal County, Arizona, rural communities and family farms need efficient maritime highways to move their product to overseas markets.

There are a number of key research areas that help mariners chart the course of their every voyage. NOAA tools – such as nautical charts, accurate positioning services, and ocean and weather observations – play a key role in ensuring that shipments move swiftly and safely along our marine highways.

Hydrographic Survey

Keeping our marine transportation system functioning in a way that is safe, efficient, and environmentally sound requires information about water depth, the shape of the sea floor and coastline, the location of possible obstructions, and other physical features of water bodies. Hydrography is the science behind this information, and surveying is a primary method of obtaining hydrographic data.

Tides and Currents

We need accurate tide and current data to aid in navigation, but these measurements also play an important role in keeping people and the environment safe. A change in water level (due to tides) can leave someone stranded (or flooded). And knowing how fast water is moving—and in what direction—is important for anyone involved in water-related activities. Predicting and measuring tides and currents is important for things like getting cargo ships safely into and out of ports, determining the extent of an oil spill, building bridges and piers, determining the best fishing spots, emergency preparedness, tsunami tracking, marsh restoration, and much more.

Aerial Photography-Shoreline Mapping

The best way to monitor the approximately 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline is from a bird’s eye view. Since the early 1900s, NOAA's National Geodetic Survey has been doing that—taking photographs from airplanes to capture the Earth below. Today, the capture of these aerial photographs is controlled by Global Positioning System techniques and the photos are used to define the national shoreline, create maps and charts, and monitor environmental change. Global Positioning is fundamental to navigation, communication systems, mapping and charting, and much more. NOAA's National Geodetic Survey is responsible for the development and maintenance of the National Spatial Reference System, a national coordinate system that allows surveyors and others to accurately position points of interest and ensure that their coordinates match up with those determined by others.

Height Modernization

Sea level rise, subsidence, earthquakes, and even oil and gas extraction, can all cause the elevation of an area to change. State and local governments can spend tens of millions of dollars each year adjusting engineering projects such as roads and buildings that are affected by these shifting surfaces. Enter the need to determine elevations better, faster, and cheaper—and enter Height Modernization.

Procedures/Instructional Strategy:

  1. Divide the class into small groups of no more than four.
  2. Give the students hard copies of the lesson. The entire lesson is downloadable at the end of this lesson.
  3. Explain the components of the assignment. Your students will be charting a course between two locations. Listed below are the student directions.

Student Directions

  1. Your goal is to navigate the Delaware River in a small merchant vessel and deliver materials in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the Pann Treaty Park to deliver materials for new benches and picnic shelter>
  2. On-line, view NOAA marine chart for the Delaware River. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/gmap3
  3. Determine the position of the beginning and ending locations: The beginning is the entrance of the Delaware River at Ship John Shoal, NJ. (39o 18’ 13.23” N/75 o 22’ 30.15” W)

    and just beyond the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (39 o 57’ 11.94” N/ 75 o 08’ 13.77 W) at the ending location, the Penn Treaty Park (39 57’ 55.13” N/ 75 07’ 39.92” W). * see #7 for the best place to dock your vessel.

  4. Your vessel is 20 feet in height above the water line and 30 feet wide, 100 feet long, and drafts 5 feet (below the waterline).
  5. You have already navigated to the entrance of the Delaware River and are preparing to maneuver up river to the park. Your destination is upstream from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. You will also pass under other bridges including the Walt Whitman Bridge and Commodore Barry Bridge.
  6. You must determine the weather and tide height using NOAA Tide and Current Data http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/gmap3

  7. Click on the appropriate light blue “pred” buttons for Ship John Shoals and Philadelphia to access data chart for tides, and the Brown "met obs" will give wind and other weather observations at that station and "WL" will give water level. Water level differs from predicted tide height and more accurate for navigation.

  8. If the weather and tide (WL) conditions are at acceptable (calm weather and lower tide level) you can begin moving up to your destination. Tide (WL) data is most important when it impacts your air gap or distance between the top of your vessel and the bottom of any bridges you pass under. If your air gap is very small, and the tide (WL) is very high, then it might prevent you from passing under the bridge until the tides (WL) lowers.
  9. You will sail up the river entrance along the shipping lanes largely in center of the river. You will be staying in the channel between the red and green buoys (symbols). When access the navigation data in Google Earth, you can click on a red or green buoy to see the shipping lane outlines. Vessels sail upstream on the red buoy side and on the green buoy side when sailing down river. In some places there may be more than one shipping lane so access the navigation charts often.
  10. Be aware of any bridges and your air gap. The vertical clearance of each bridge is indicated after clicking on the black oval with blue “wings” on Google Earth. The name of the bridge, its horizontal and vertical clearances, and if it is a fixed bridge (will not raise for larger vessels) or a bridge that can be raised for larger vessels.
  11. Locate any wrecks or other danger areas on the river bottom. (wreck symbol)
  12. Your destination is to dock at Pann Treaty Park. It may be easier to actually tie up your vessel at the large dock at 39o 57’ 57.84” N/ 75o 07’ 34.84” W which is behind Philly Electric.
  13. Ask students to share their findings.

Students will use nowCOAST, NOAA Ocean Service, GPS, Marine Charts, marine hazards maps, tides and currents ( http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/gmap3), Marine weather (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/marine_map.htm>), bathymetric maps, and NOAA marine charts available on Google Earth to chart the best course for their vessel.

To open the NOAA charts in Google Earth, go to the Google Earth maps and on the left hand side of the actual map there is a tool bar for which items you would like to see on your Google maps. Near the bottom of this tool bar is "layers" and to the right of it is an option to go to Earth Gallery. Go there and type NOAA in the search, click on EarthNC NOAA and click to open it in Google Earth. Then as you move through Google Earth maps there will be little gray boxes with red ' and other symbols that when click will display NOAA charts with all the important symbols needed for navigations through shipping channel and around hazards.

Students need to include information about air gap and marine hazards Evaluation will be given on the following criteria:

  1. Was the voyage successful?
  2. Content: (Does it cover the required areas —consideration of all marine information available, direct-safe-efficient)
  3. Evaluate the difficulty of following and reading all the indicators on the chart.

***Depending on your students, this activity can be tailored by starting with charting and navigating a course in a small craft on a course between two locations that are close by with few marine hazards. Most of the difficulty is experienced in near shore environments by human-made structures. Navigation in the open ocean is relatively straight-forward and impacted largely by currents, wind, and severe weather. We suggest that you provide students with a short list of predetermined locations to navigate between, ones in which you have already researched ahead of time. As with land based topographic maps, marine charts include some information that may be extraneous to your student's needs to navigating a course. The most important chart data to consider are water depths, tides, current, and basic hazards. Much of this also depends on the type of vessel they choose to operate. A Navy destroyer, fuel tanker, and sport fishing boat all have very different requirements. A 300' long fuel tanker takes extra time and space to turn and maneuver and needs to be very aware of water depth and air gap, but a sport boat can turn quickly to avoid hazards, drafts (portion of the boat under the water) only a few feet, and is unaffected by the height of most few bridges. An ideal starting activity would be to begin with a small pleasure craft traveling between two coastal locations. For more understanding of geopositioning and navigating using marine charts also have students use Plot your Course: Nautical Charts and Marine Navigation https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/lessons/plot_course.html The add marine the use of tides and currents as well as additional marine hazards such as air gap on bridges.

Students will plot a safe voyage from one location to the next, justifying their chosen route as determined by all available information. Students will also take a short quiz. Grading Criteria (suggested):

  1. Success of voyage – 10 pts
  2. Use of resources – 30 pts
  3. Understanding of resources – 25 pts
  4. Applicability -10 pts
  5. Challenge of route between locations - 25 pts

This activity could be assessed using standard question -answers for vocabulary, navigation concepts, and symbols, but it would more appropriately be assessed by a more authentic means by having students present their experiences in navigating up a major shipping river.

Students can create poems, tales or images that share their thoughts, feelings and visions about their voyage and the history of marine travel.

Classroom Resources:
Computer with Internet Access Interactive White Board (if available)

Lesson Plan File:
(entire word document containing complete lesson plan and supporting attachments)
Download Here (pdf, 174)

Student Work Description:
Photograph of students working on the "Charting a Course" lesson.

Sample of Student Work:
Download Here

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