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Young Voices for the Planet DVD in our online store includes 8 films where students speak out and take action on climate change.
This picture shows some of the ways that the atmosphere and the ocean are connected.
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Ocean-Atmosphere Coupling

Some scientists study the atmosphere. Other scientists study the oceans. Both kinds of scientists use computer models. There are also scientists who study both the oceans and the atmosphere. They need a special kind of computer model. Those models keep track of connections between the air and the seas. The special models are called "coupled models".

How are the atmosphere and the oceans connected? Have you ever learned about the water cycle? Heat from the Sun causes water in the ocean to evaporate. The water goes into the air as water vapor. Water vapor makes clouds. Some clouds make rain. Most rain falls on the oceans, returning water to the seas. This is one way the atmosphere and oceans are connected.

Water isn't the only thing that moves between the oceans and the atmosphere. Other chemicals do too. For example, air has carbon dioxide in it. Some of that carbon dioxide gets dissolved into sea water. When it does, it forms a weak 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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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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