Oceanography: The Benthic Zone

Lesson Title: Oceanography: The Benthic Zone
Academic Standards: HS-LS4-3; HS-LS4-4; HS-ESS2-4; HS-ESS1-5
Content Creator: Mrs. Wendy Martin
Level: High School
Duration: 35-45 min
  /  Oceanography: The Benthic Zone


  • Differentiate between oceanic and continental crust.
  • Differentiate between the continental shelf and continental slope.
  • State the features that make up the topography of the ocean floor: seamount, guyot, trench, abyssal plain, and mid oceanic ridges.
  • Learn where the Pacific Ring of Fire is located and its geologic significance.
  • Understand the three types of plate boundaries and what role plate tectonics has in their formation.
  • Learn where the benthic zone is located and the general characteristics of it.
  • Learn some examples of the unique animals found in the benthic zone and see some of their unique adaptations (e.g, bioluminescence).
  • Understand why many of these animals are red or have red on them.


Using many techniques including sonar, seismic profiling, and underwater research vehicles, oceanographers have mapped the topography of the ocean floor. We have discovered that it is much like the topography of Earth’s continents. It has mountains and volcanoes and great plains, however the mountains seem to be higher, trenches deeper, and plains more vast. This lesson will take place in an underwater setting. Students will discover the topography of the ocean floor while standing on it. Lesson will emphasize plate tectonics and its role in formation of both new oceanic crust and continental crust. A video will show the potential scenario that could occur if the Pacific Ring if Fire erupted! Lesson will also include examples of unique marine life seen in this benthic zone. Students will handle these organisms and discuss their unique adaptations. Field trip will include a submersible journey to the bottom of the ocean.


  1. Start out on the beach. Discuss how the continental crust doesn't end under the waves.
  2. Show 2D video "How Deep is the Ocean" to introduce lesson.
  3. Walk out into the ocean.
  4. Discuss continental shelf and continental slope and explain how class just walked on both to get onto ocean floor.
  5. Discuss ocean basins and the topography of them. Discussion should include seamounts, guyots, abyssal plains, and mid oceanic ridges.
  6. Show video "What If.....Ring of Fire Erupted?"
  7. Discuss the three types of plate boundaries and plate tectonics role in their formation.
  8. Identify the types of animals seen in the benthic zone.
  9. Manipulate animal 3D objects and allow students to discuss unique adaptations. Examples of animals in ancillary section.
  10. Explain why the color red is so common in deep sea animals.
  11. Go on a virtual field trip to reinforce the concepts of today's lesson; VFT: "Journey to the Deep".

Demonstratives & Media

Classroom Space
Dinosaur Park
Virtual Field Trips & Lab Demonstrations
Instructional Videos
3D objects

Suggested Ancillary Support

Examples of animals I used as IFXs to manipulate: giant squid, sperm whale, red sponges, viperfish, dumbo octopus, coral   How Deep is the Ocean? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwVNkfCov1k   What If the Ring of Fire Erupted? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QniWayRs7pw   Journey to the Deep 360 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlPN9Ox_MIk