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Earth Systems Science Core
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The energy flow in the ocean's ecosystems are varied and complex. Most of the energy in the ocean begins with photosynthetic organisms such as algae. Some of the energy begins with chemical energy such as sulfur-fixing bacteria at hydrothermal vents. In most energy transformations, less than ten percent of energy is passed on to the next organism. When the food chain is modeled in the form of the amount of energy acquired when one organism consumes another organism, scientists use a food energy pyramid.

Try It!

The following activity requires you to build four energy pyramids with three levels each. The pyramids below have four sides, each representing a different energy pyramid. Each pyramid should start with a producer that receives its energy from chemical or light sources at the base of the pyramid. You will need to research the different food chains for this activity.


The following food chain locations should be represented:

  • Intertidal zone - possible organisms: rock algae, barnacles, starfish, moray eel
  • Open ocean zone - possible organisms: photoplankton, zooplankton, krill, blue whale
  • Heat vent zone - possible organisms: sulfur fixing bacteria, mussels, octopus, sperm whale
  • Another ocean zone of your choice - possible organisms: kelp, sea urchins, star fish, grouper


  1. Print the pyramid cutout.
  2. Research and determine the organisms that will be on each of your four energy pyramids.
  3. Draw each organism in the correct location on its energy pyramid.
  4. Color the organisms you have drawn.
  5. Label each organism in all pyramids.
  6. You may only use humans on one energy pyramid.
  7. Cut, fold, and tape your pyramid to form a four-sided pyramid.


  1. How did the organisms vary with each of your four energy pyramids?
  2. Compare your pyramid with a friend's pyramid.
    • What similar organisms did you both use?
    • How were your energy pyramids different from each other?
Review science lab safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE Earth Systems Science core.


Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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