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Measuring the temperature of the ocean Capability: Critique evidence NoS achievement aims: Understanding about science Contextual strands: Planet Earth and beyond Level : 5

Measuring ocean temperature

Argo project

These e-resources provide an introduction to the challenges of measuring temperatures of the ocean. Developing insights into why this is not straightforward helps students to strengthen their capability to critique evidence in the context of science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Understanding about science

Students will learn about science as a knowledge system: the features of scientific knowledge and the processes by which it is developed; and learn about the ways in which the work of scientists interacts with society.


Understand that scientists’ investigations are informed by current scientific theories and aim to collect evidence that will be interpreted through processes of logical argument.

Planet Earth and Beyond


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Earth systems

Investigate and understand the spheres of the Earth system: geosphere [land], hydrosphere [water], atmosphere [air], and biosphere [life].


Investigate the composition, structure, and features of the geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere.

Learning focus

Students compare methods of gathering data about sea temperatures to develop awareness of the practical challenges this entails.

Learning activity

These websites each contribute a different angle to the issue of how sea temperatures can be measured. The Science Buzz website provides a simply worded introduction as an orientation to the issue. The Science Learning Hub provides a deeper slice related specifically to the Argo project. It could be used as a “case study” of just one method. (For example, this video  explicitly discusses the challenges of “covering” the vast Southern Ocean with Argo floats.)

Adapting the resources

Students could begin by building a visual representation (poster, chart, concept map) of the different methods that are used to measure sea temperatures. In small groups have them prepare a reasoned argument for one or both of these questions:

  • If you were forced to choose just one of these methods, which would it be and why?
  • Why do scientists use more than one method when all of them have their practical challenges and costs?

As they report back, aim to steer the discussion towards an appreciation of the idea of data triangulation: even though each method has its challenges, confidence in the results grows stronger as multiple methods point to similar patterns and trends. 

What’s important here?

When something is complex and cannot be measured with one simple and definitive method, it is easier for critics to selectively pick off and discount data. Developing an appreciation for the complexities of data gathering, and knowing some critical questions to ask about methods, is an important aspect of learning to critique both data itself and arguments about the validity and reliability of evidence gathered by others.    

Developing an appreciation of how evidence in science is generated supports students to become scientifically literate, i.e., to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role. (This is the purpose of science in NZC.)

What are we looking for?

Can students provide simple descriptions of multiple methods for measuring sea temperatures?

As they discuss advantages and challenges of these methods, do they show an awareness of the practical complexities of measuring the sea temperature (e.g., sampling, coverage, changes with changing location, depth, cost (who pays?), etc.)

Can they explain why confidence in the data is strengthened when different methods report similar patterns and trends?

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in critiquing evidence see Progressions .

Exploring further

This recent blog posting  on The Conversation blog site addresses the practical challenges of taking measurements in a different ocean context. Author Jenni Metcalfe clearly and simply describes the challenges of taking population counts of tuna for fisheries regulation purposes.

Other resources for this capability

Key words

Sampling, global warming