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OLP 3: The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate

<p>Fig. 1.&nbsp;OLP 3. Hurricane Ike approaching the Texas coast on September 12, 2008.</p>

The interaction of oceanic and atmospheric processes controls Earth’s weather and climate. For example, the heat transferred from the tropical ocean provides the energy that drives atmospheric circulation, including hurricanes, cyclones, and polar storms (Fig. 1).


The interaction of oceanic and atmospheric processes controls weather and climate by dominating the Earth’s energy, water, and carbon systems.


The ocean moderates global weather and climate by absorbing most of the solar radiation reaching the Earth. Heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere drives the water cycle and oceanic and atmospheric circulation.


Heat exchange between the ocean and atmosphere can result in dramatic global and regional weather phenomena, impacting patterns of rain and drought. Significant examples include the El Niño Southern Oscillation and La Niña, which cause important changes in global weather patterns because they alter the sea surface temperature patterns in the Pacific.


Condensation of water that evaporated from warm seas provides the energy for hurricanes and cyclones. Most rain that falls on land originally evaporated from the tropical ocean.


The ocean dominates Earth’s carbon cycle. Half of the primary productivity on Earth takes place in the sunlit layers of the ocean. The ocean absorbs roughly half of all carbon dioxide and methane that are added to the atmosphere.


The ocean has had, and will continue to have, a significant influence on climate change by absorbing, storing, and moving heat, carbon, and water. Changes in the ocean’s circulation have produced large, abrupt changes in climate during the last 50,000 years.


Changes in the ocean-atmosphere system can result in changes to the climate that in turn, cause further changes to the ocean and atmosphere. These interactions have dramatic physical, chemical, biological, economic, and social consequences.

Representative Image: 
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.