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Weird Science: From Observation to Inference to Testable Hypothesis

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

SF Fig. 3.4. Gulf Stream sea surface temperature in the western Atlantic ocean basin as viewed in a computer simulation model. Warmer water is shown in red and orange tones.

Image courtesy of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Currents, both in air and water, have played a substantial role in human transportation and travel over the years. In the 1700s Benjamin Franklin was the deputy postmaster general for the North American colonies. Franklin noted that the mail took longer to arrive from England to the colonies than it took to send mail from the colonies back east to England. He convinced his nephew Timothy Folger, a whaling ship captain who traveled between England and the colonies, to conduct a simple experiment. Folger dropped bottles over the side of his ship and noted how fast they were moving and in which direction. Franklin also took several trips in which he measured the temperature of the water and air, knowing that water in the Gulf Stream (SF Fig. 3.4), which was traveling from warmer southern waters, would be warmer. Franklin and Folger were able to produce the first maps of the Gulf Stream. They described a fast moving current or “underwater river” that flows up the east coast of North America.


Question Set
  1. Benjamin Franklin predicted the discovery of the Gulf Stream from his records of how long ships took to carry mail between Boston and England. Which direction of the trip probably took longer? Why?
  2. Benjamin Franklin was a postmaster when he realized the Gulf Stream current affected the delivery time of mail between North America and Europe. What are some other professions where people are affected by currents?
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.