Make Your Own Ocean Zones in a Jar

Ocean zones (the layers of an ocean) in a jar

Are you learning about the ocean this summer? Teach your child about the five layers of an ocean (also called ocean zones) by creating this layered jar. This is the perfect union of two science experiments:  a lesson on liquid density and learning about ocean zones. I was inspired by Playdough to Plato’s Rainbow in a Jar and this post from KCEdventures for learning about the ocean zones.

The depth is characterized by the amount of light that each zone receives. The amazing thing about the ocean is that there are creatures/organisms that live in each of these zones, although most all living creatures/plants live in the sunlight zone. Go here to see a diagram with more information.


Here’s what you’ll need:  A clear jar, food coloring, corn syrup, oil, dish soap, water, rubbing alcohol and funnels.  



You’ll pour 3/4 cup of each liquid into your glass jar for each ocean layer (or less for a smaller jar).


Going from the bottom to the top:

Trench Zone (Hadalpelagic Zone):  Corn Syrup (tinted black)

Abyss (Abyssopelagic Zone):  Dish soap (tinted purple)

Midnight Zone (Bathypelagic Zone):  Water (tinted dark green)

Twilight Zone (Mesopelagic Zone):  Oil (tinted dark blue)

Sunlight Zone (Epipelagic Zone):  Rubbing Alcohol (tinted light blue)




1. Add some black food coloring to 3/4 cup of corn syrup and pour into the bottom of your glass jar.




2. Mix blue food coloring into 3/4 cup of dish soap. Our dish soap was already blue, but I added a little more blue food coloring to make it darker (in hindsight I would have added less coloring as it was darker than I wanted). Add it to the jar using a funnel.




3. Put blue food coloring in 3/4 cup of water and use a funnel to slowly and carefully layer it on top of the dish soap.




4. Next, you’ll add your oil. Obviously, water in the “midnight zone” is not actually yellow. But this was the best I could do as I found it was virtually impossible to change the color of oil (and believe me, I tried). :)  Edited to add:  A sweet reader e-mailed and said that you can dye oil using oil-based food coloring found at a bakery supply store or here.




5. Finally, you will add 3/4 cup of rubbing alcohol. You’ll want to use a dropper to slowly add it to the top of the oil, making sure not to break the barrier between the oil and water.




All five layers!




Add some labels and put in front of a light source to see the layers best! Do some research and investigate the creatures that live at each of the depths of the ocean!



Check out our other science experiments and stay tuned for more ocean activities!





  1. What happens if the jar moves around? Will the layers gravitate back as they belong or is it just a “one time use”kind of project?

    1. Great question! I haven’t tried intentionally shaking the jar, but moving it from one place to another doesn’t seem to disrupt it too much. I would assume that the liquids would still separate if you are shaking them up, but the colors might bleed.

    2. HI there
      I live in the Uk. What is rubbing alcohol? And what can I use instead of corn syrup, can’t find that over here.

  2. Your materials list has milk in it but I don’t see it being used. Is that a typo or am I missing something?

    1. Oops…I forgot to take that out! Thanks for catching it. :) I actually tried it first with milk instead of the oil, but it did NOT work. :) So we used oil instead. Removing it from the materials list now…

  3. I gotta say this looked neat, but after 3 attempts with my 6 year old we both gave up. :( I couldn’t get the dish soap and water to stay seperate. No matter how slowly I added it. Yet the top two weren’t hard to keep apart at all. Bummer.

    1. Same here. Several different methods. Several different ingredients. Same result. Mixed layers. Officially giving up.

    2. Same here. Tried twice with my son, but the bottom 3 layers wouldn’t stay separate. Tried pouring them in more slowly during the second time but they still mixed.

  4. Hi, I’m in university right now studying to be a teacher and I was wondering what age group this project would be appropriate for? I’ll be teaching one-on-one soon and this seems like a great lesson!

    1. I’ll be using this with 10/11 year-olds later in the week for our unit on oceans, but I think that you could use this for any age by simply modifying the level of assistance you provide. I think that even high school students would enjoy this.

  5. Loved this project…my son and I have tried a few different variations using different colors and amounts, and also tried different way of pouring/layering. He has also shaken one and the colors did bleed, but a few days later – all separated and still noticeable layers.

  6. I really like this hands on activity. It is a great visual for students to have, and also seems really fun to make with them! I recently created a TextSet for a class that I am in, and I used this to deepen students understanding of what ocean zones are, and what they look like!

  7. I used blue oil paint to tint the oil. I couldn’t find oil based food coloring. But it still worked great. I also used the purple dawn soap and didn’t add any additional coloring and it worked just fine as well. Thanks for this lesson!

  8. My daughter and I also recreated with little success, but did not give up. We found the key is NOT to use the food coloring with the dish soap, but to use dish soap that was sold as purple soap instead . It seemed that the food coloring added to the dish soap was seeping into our water layer.

  9. Do you think you could use baby oil in place of cooking oil since it is clear and may be easier to dye? Not sure.

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