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This picture shows some of the ways that the atmosphere and the ocean are connected.
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Ocean-Atmosphere Coupling

Scientists who study the atmosphere use computer models to help them out. Some scientists who study the oceans also use computer models of the seas. There are also scientists who study both the atmosphere and the oceans together. Those scientists use a special type of computer model that includes the oceans and the atmosphere. They call that special type of computer model a "coupled model".

Scientists need coupled models because the oceans and the atmosphere are connected. Have you ever studied the water cycle? Heat from the Sun causes water in the ocean to evaporate and go into the air as water vapor. Water vapor forms clouds, and some clouds make rain. Most rain falls on the oceans, returning water to the seas. This is an example of how the atmosphere and oceans are connected.

Other chemicals (besides water) also move between the oceans and the atmosphere. For example, air has carbon dioxide in it. Some of that carbon dioxide gets dissolved into sea water. When it does, it forms carbonic acid. Some types of plankton in the oceans give off chemicals that have sulfur in them. Those sulfur chemicals can end up in the atmosphere.

Heat also moves back and forth between air and water. Water "holds onto" heat better than air. That is why places near oceans have warmer winters (and cooler summers) than places that are further inland. Clouds over the oceans make shade. That can cool off the oceans underneath, since they get less sunlight.

Winds over the ocean push the water along. That makes waves and some kinds of ocean currents. Some of the spray from waves carries salt up into the air.

Last modified September 26, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA