Printer Friendly

Compare-Contrast-Connect: Seasonal Variation in Ocean Temperature Vertical Profiles

The physical and chemical characteristics of the world ocean are not uniform. Temperature, salinity, light, density, nutrients, and oxygen can vary by location, depth, and time. Despite being highly variable, there are broad patterns in physical and chemical characteristics. Water stratification patterns by depth can be observed by looking at vertical profiles of these characteristics. The upper layer of the ocean is well lit, warm, and highly oxygenated with low salinity, density and nutrients. There is also a thick bottom layer with relatively high salinity, density, and nutrients and low temperature and salinity. Oxygen is low at mid depths and then increases at higher depths.


SF Fig. 2.5. Idealized vertical temperature ocean profiles in July and January (A) near the equator, (B) at approximately 45º N or S latitude, and (C) near the poles.

Image by Byron Inouye

SF Fig. 2.6. A world map with bands indicating the location of the tropics (red band), mid-latitudes (orange bands), and polar areas (blue bands).

Image by Byron Inouye

Physical and chemical factors vary with depth for a number of reasons. For example, vertical profiles in the ocean vary with the seasons depending on latitude (SF Fig. 2.5). The area on earth indicated by each of the locations in SF Fig. 2.5 are shown in SF Fig. 2.6.


Question Set
  1. Describe how ocean vertical temperature profiles vary between the seasons in
    1. The topics (SF Fig. 2.5 A)
    2. The mid-latitudes (SF Fig. 2.5 B)
    3. The poles (SF Fig. 2.5 C).
  2. Why do you think the vertical temperature profile at the equator and at the North Pole does not change much with the seasons?
  3. Why do you think the mid-latitudes have seasonal differences in vertical temperature profiles?
  4. What do you think affects the depth of the warm ocean surface water?
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.