Ocean Currents

The ocean is never still.  Ocean currents are constantly moving and churning the waters.  There are surface currents and deep currents and upwelling currents.  All these currents move heat and nutrients around the world oceans.  The currents affect the land as well.  Here is an Ocean Currents Map showing some of the major surface currents in the oceans.

Color the arrows in red for warm currents and dark blue for cold currents.  The major currents can be labeled with the help of a student atlas.  The rest of the ocean should be colored light blue.

The currents that begin near the equator are moving warm water to regions nearer the poles, which warms these regions and helps the earth remain temperate.  The currents that begin closer to the poles move cold water toward the equator, cooling the hot regions of the earth.

The circulation of the earth’s oceans keeps all that water from stagnating as well. Can you imagine a giant ocean swamp? Uck! Image from Wikimedia, CC license.

Besides the way heat and nutrients are moved around the earth the currents also help with shipping.  If a ship moves with the current it can move much more quickly than if it fights the current or moves across a current.  Shipping lanes traveled by large container ships and passenger ships take these currents into account.

This is a picture, drawn by Benjamin Franklin, of the Gulf Stream, a major ocean current that takes ships quickly from North America to Europe. Public domain.

Additional Layers

  • Tides are a part of the system that keeps the ocean waters moving as well.  Find out what causes tides.
  • Surface tides are caused by wind and the turning of the earth.  Deep currents are caused by temperature differences and salinity differences in the ocean.
  • There are other movements too, upwelling and downwelling, where ocean water moves from the depths to the surface or vice versa.
  • The European eel depends on the ocean currents to complete its life cycle.  Find out more about this animal.


  1. This map is great but your North Atlantic Gyre has the bottom arrow in the wrong direction. The Northern Equatorial current runs along the southern part of the Gyre opposite the Equatorial Counter Current then feeds into the Gulf Stream.

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