Interactive Models

Ocean Circulation Patterns: Garbage Patches Story Map


Using various visualizations (i.e., images, charts, and graphs), students will explore ocean circulation patterns as they relate to the world's ocean garbage patches using NASA ocean currents data. Students will investigate the forces that contribute to ocean circulation patterns, and how debris, especially plastics, travel from land to garbage patches. Students will also analyze regional plastic production and waste management data to describe how humans have contributed to ocean plastic pollution. This story map is intended to be used with students who have access to a computing device in a 1:1 or 1:2 setting.

story map

Materials Required

Resources Needed Per Student:


  1. Using an internet accessible device, students open the link to the Ocean Circulation Patterns Story Map to begin their exploration of this phenomenon.
  2. Distribute the Ocean Circulation Patterns Story Map Student Sheet. Have students navigate on their own through the Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate tabs of the story map to answer the questions and complete the activities on their student sheet.

Ocean Circulation Patterns Story Map Introduction PageClick Here

Teacher Note

Ocean currents are masses of water in motion that circulate the water and all that’s in it.  Driven by wind and other forces, currents on the ocean surface cover our planet. Some span hundreds to thousands of miles across vast ocean basins in well-defined flows. Others are confined to particular regions and form slow-moving, circular pools. Seen from space, the circulating waters offer a study in both chaos and order.

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Teachers who are interested in receiving the answer key, please complete the Teacher Key Request and Verification Form. We verify that requestors are teachers prior to sending access to the answer keys as we’ve had many students try to pass as teachers to gain access.

  • Students will analyze and compare multiple variables of the Earth System as they analyze ocean circulation patterns.
  • Students will investigate the relationship between ocean circulation patterns and garbage patches. 
  • Students will investigate the forces that contribute to ocean circulation patterns. 
  • Students will model their understanding of the Earth System interactions that contribute plastics on land to ocean garbage patches. 
  1. What are garbage patches and how are they formed?
  2. What forces within the Earth System contribute to ocean circulation patterns?
  3. What conditions within the Earth System allow plastic on land to be transported to ocean garbage patches?

National Geography Standards:

  • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.
  • Internet Required
  • One-to-a-Group

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