Scientists have long recognized the importance of oceans in our climate. In fact, the unique physical characteristics of our oceans are largely responsible for making the Earth a livable environment. Oceans are major “climate-controllers” because of their large heat capacity. For instance, it requires four times the amount of energy to raise the temperature of water by one degree than it does soil. As a result, over a long period, oceans can store and transport heat from one location to another. Furthermore, water reacts slowly to the surrounding atmosphere. While this means our oceans may exert relatively little influence in short-term weather, they have a large effect on long-term climate.
Of particular interest is the ocean’s Conveyor Belt or thermohaline circulation, since both temperature and salinity are at the root of its existence. People in the U.S. know it as part of the “Gulf Stream” that carries warm waters north along the U.S. eastern seaboard and across the north Atlantic Ocean.
It then flows south from the European side of the Atlantic, crosses the equator, joins another ocean circulation, and eventually reaches the Pacific, a trip that lasts 1000 years! At high latitudes, cold, dry air from land lowers the average temperature of the warm waters coming from the equator. Evaporation then removes water free of salt and ice formation leaves behind the salty ocean waters. These processes go to increase the ocean’s water density, forcing it to sink, leading to the formation of what is known as the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW)..
Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
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