Resource Type
Completion Time
Less than 1 period
Middle School and Up
Download and Share
Lollie Garay
2 cans or bottles of coke for demonstration
Blue crepe paper or material to represent ocean (cheap bed sheets or blue shower liners work well)
Props for the warmer equatorial /surface waters (straw hat, sunglasses)
Props for the polar ocean (gloves, hat, scarf, etc)
1 set of identification cards (plankton, photosynthesis, etc. examples attached)
String or yarn for ID cards (they will be worn around the neck)
Copies of CO2 cards- about 100
15-20 Envelopes marked “Organic Matter”
1 image of the Sun
Bubble mixture and wands (represent outgassing)


This activity allows students to participate in a physically interactive dramatization of the oceanic biological pump.


The purpose of this activity is to develop a conceptual understanding of how the biological pump moves carbon through the oceans.


Background Information:
The Carbon cycle is a biochemical cycle that transfers carbon between short and long-lived reservoirs in the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and geosphere. Short-term reservoirs are found in terrestrial, oceanic and atmospheric systems, with turnovers in ~1000- 10,000 yrs. The largest short term reservoir is the deep ocean. The largest long-term carbon reservoirs are sedimentary rocks with residence times in 100 millions of years. We increase short-term reservoirs by "mining" the long-lived reservoirs. If we do this faster than nature intended (e.g. human activity, land use, fossil fuels), the short-term reservoirs increase in size. Scientists construct carbon budgets from measurements of productivity, food webs, and nutrient cycling to understand the global carbon cycle. The atmosphere is the link between the reservoirs and the oceans play a major role in determining atmospheric levels of CO2 through physical, chemical and biological means. CO2 levels have increased from 280 ppm to 385 ppm (about 38%) since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and the rate of increase is increasing from 1ppm (pre-2000) to 2ppm per year. Most of the concentrations of CO2 come from changes in land use and fossil fuels. But the atmosphere sees only about half the increase it would, were it not for the "sinks" in the ocean and terrestrial biosphere. So how does that work?


A. Begin with a demonstration:
In front of the students, open 2 cans of coca cola, one warm (room temp), one cold. Tell them you will let them sit for awhile and come back to them later!

B. Activity:
1. The first time around, tell the students that they will act out the narration you will read. Do not give them too much prior information other than an overview of the intent: to act out the processes of the carbon cycle in the ocean.
2. Assign roles and give them the props they will need. One person for each different component will be needed, although you can have lots of plankton and bacteria!
3. As you narrate, stop the action from time to time to explain what is happening.
4. After the activity, go back to the cokes. Which one tastes better? Why? (The warmer coke is flat (less carbonation; the colder one retains more taste. How is this like the ocean?)
5. After several runs, my students wanted to "say their own lines". This is a great way to assess understanding! Later, they were able to recall their actions and make connections as we spoke about the oceanic carbon cycle!

Using props and movements, participants will act out the sequence of events that demonstrate the processes that drive the oceanic carbon pumps. Remember that as with all models, these are simplifications to capture the essence of the process. Use the attached script as a guide.


Lollie Garay, lolgaray [at], in collaboration with Dr. Tish Yager, Associate Professor, University of Georgia, School of Marine Programs

Attachment Size
Download Activity (PDF 1.1 MB)1.11 MB 1.11 MB