Energy in the Ocean and Atmosphere

Energy in the Oceans and Atmosphere

The ocean and atmosphere are connected. They work together to move heat and fresh water across the globe. Wind-driven and ocean-current circulations move warm water toward the poles and colder water toward the equator. The ocean can store much more heat than the land surfaces on the Earth. The majority of the thermal energy at the Earth’s surface is stored in the ocean. Thus, the absorption and movement of energy on the Earth is related to the ocean-atmosphere system.

El Niño/La Niña

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La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, compared to El Niño, which is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the same region. Consequences of El Niño or La Niña require scientists to make short-term climate predictions. To provide the necessary data, NOAA operates a network of buoys, which measure temperature, currents, and winds in the equatorial band. These buoys transmit data on daily basis, which are available to researchers and forecasters around the world in real time. Students can access this data to conduct research.

Energy in the Atmosphere

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Temperature differences in the atmosphere are a result of the way solar energy is absorbed as it moves through the atmosphere. The transfer of heat energy within the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and the Earth’s surface and interior occurs as a result of radiation, convection, and conduction. Ocean currents play a significant role in transferring this heat toward the poles. Major currents, such as the northward flowing Gulf Stream, transport tremendous amounts of heat to the poles and contribute to the development of many types of weather phenomena. Resources here include seven activities to help students better understand these concepts.

Transfer of Energy from the Ocean to the Atmosphere

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Heat moves in predictable ways, flowing from warmer objects to cooler ones, until both reach the same temperature. Because water in the ocean holds a large amount of heat, the ocean has a major effect on climate. When air in contact with the ocean is at a different temperature than the sea surface, heat transfer by conduction takes place. The ocean also absorbs and stores energy from the sun, and when precipitation falls, it releases heat energy into the atmosphere. Resources in this section include interactive online quizzes.

Twistin' the Air Away - The Coriolis Effect
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