Solar Storms and You!

Activity 2: Sunspot Activity and Ocean Temperature


Scientists have found that there is a possible correlation between the average ocean temperature and the solar sunspot activity. By comparing the results from the data that has been collected since the 1800's to the present, scientists have found a possible pattern. For example, there are many instances when the average ocean surface temperature and the sunspot activity were at a high or low at about the same time. The source of the controversy is that there are also times in which the correlation is not apparent.


Students will analyze and compare two graphs to determine if there is a correlation between solar activity and ocean temperature.


Student page


  1. Group students into either pairs or teams of four. Read the introduction to the students concerning the current controversy.
  2. Review with the students an example of how the graphs may be similar and different. Be sure to mention shape, distribution, highs, lows, scale, axis, and time frame.
  3. Provide the students with sufficient time to compare the two graphs. A transparency, for overlay purposes, may be useful.
  4. Have the groups present their findings to the class. Some of the groups will argue that the highs and the lows of the ocean temperature correlate to the sunspot cycle. Other groups may not see a relationship, and still others may say that there is a relationship in some areas, but not in others, which leads to incomplete conclusions. This is precisely why the controversy exists. Note: The start date for each of the graphs is not the same year. Students will need to locate the appropriate year to begin the comparison.

Key Terminology

Sunspot: A dark spot on the Sun's surface indicating intense magnetic activity and solar storms. It indicates a cooler temperature.
Sunspot Cycle: The change in the rise and fall of sunspot numbers over a roughly 11 - year cycle.


Explain that the relationship between the sunspot cycle and the ocean temperature has not been proven or disproved. However, there seems to be a grudging consensus that there is something going on between the two. Note: The ocean temperature data is based on over 80 million measurements made by hundreds of ships that every hour, dumped a bucket overboard to collect sea water.

Related Web Resources

Visit the climate and weather resources at the Remote Sensing Satellite Data web site at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to view satellite observations of hurricanes and other Earth views from space resources.

Consider using the sun spot data to search for correlations with other types of climate. For example, compare the sunspot cycles against the numbers of recorded hurricanes, tornadoes or El Nino episodes to see if sun spots might cause more 'extreme weather' conditions. If you visit the Web, and search under 'El Nino', 'Hurricanes' or 'Tornadoes' you will find sites that give historical data as to when they happened. You might also consider comparing sun spot cycles against rainfall measurements from a specific locality over the course of 100 years. It may be necessary to average the data into weekly or monthly averages in order to look for any patterns.

Return to the Table of Contents 
This activity was developed by the NASA, IMAGE/POETRY 
Teacher and Student Consortium. 
For more information, and a list of other resources, visit 
the IMAGE/POETRYweb site.