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Virginia Standards (PDF)

Standard 5.6 (Fifth Grade)

The student will investigate and understand characteristics of the ocean environment. Key concepts include

  • a) geological characteristics;
  • b) physical characteristics; and
  • c) ecological characteristics.


This standard extends the study of ecosystems to the ocean environment. It focuses on the major descriptive characteristics of oceans. Among the concepts are the geological characteristics of the ocean floor, the physical characteristics of ocean water, and the ecological characteristics of communities of marine organisms. Connections can be made to standards 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, and 5.7. It is intended that students will actively develop and utilize scientific investigation, reasoning, and logic skills (5.1) in the context of the key concepts presented in this standard.

Understanding the Standard

  • Oceans cover about 70 percent of the surface of Earth.
  • Important features of the ocean floor near the continents are the continental shelf, the continental slope, and the continental rise. These areas are covered with thick layers of sediments (sand, mud, rocks).
  • The depth of the ocean varies. Ocean trenches are very deep, and the continental shelf is relatively shallow.
  • Ocean water is a complex mixture of gases (air) and dissolved solids (salts, especially sodium chloride). Marine organisms are dependent on dissolved gases for survival. The salinity of ocean water varies in some places depending on rates of evaporation and amount of runoff from nearby land.
  • The basic motions of ocean water are the waves, currents, and tides.
  • Ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream, are caused by wind patterns and the differences in water densities (due to salinity and temperature differences). Ocean currents affect the mixing of ocean waters. This can affect plant and animal populations. Currents also affect navigation routes.
  • As the depth of ocean water increases, the temperature decreases, the pressure increases, and the amount of light decreases. These factors influence the type of life forms that are present at a given depth.
  • Plankton are tiny free-floating organisms that live in water. Plankton may be animal-like or plant-like. Animal-like plankton are called zooplankton. Plant-like plankton (phytoplankton) carry out most of the photosynthesis on Earth. Therefore, they provide much of Earth's oxygen. Phytoplankton form the base of the ocean food web. Plankton flourish in areas where nutrient-rich water upwells from the deep.

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