This picture shows some of the "parts" of a computer model. This model has both the atmosphere and the ocean in it.
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Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Models
Scientists use computer models to help them understand the Earth. They use them to study the atmosphere. They also use them to study the oceans. Some computer models just have the atmosphere in them. Other models just have the oceans in them. There is a third kind of model. It is more complicated than the other two kinds. It has the oceans and the atmosphere in it. Scientists call the third kind a "coupled model".
Coupled models can be more like the real world. In the real world, there are connections between the ocean and the atmosphere. When it rains over the ocean, the ocean gets more water in it. Some of the water vapor leaves the air. When the Sun heats the ocean, water evaporates from the ocean. That water goes into the air. It can form clouds.
Why don't scientists always use coupled models? The models are very, very complicated. It takes a lot of work to makes sure the answers from them are right. They also take a long time to run, even on fast supercomputers. Sometimes the models that are not coupled give answers that are good enough. Other times the problems are more complex. That's when scientists use coupled models.
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The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist
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