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This diagram illustrates some of the ways in which the ocean and atmosphere systems interact.
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Ocean-Atmosphere Coupling

Atmospheric scientists use computer models to help them understand the atmosphere. Oceanographers use models of the ocean to help them comprehend the seas. Some Earth scientists use coupled models that link up an atmospheric model with an ocean model to build a better picture of how these two systems work together.

What are the connections between the atmosphere and oceans in coupled models? Consider the water cycle: evaporation transfers water from the seas to the air, while rainfall puts atmospheric water vapor back into the oceans.

Various chemicals move back and forth between the atmosphere and the seas. Carbon dioxide in the air dissolves into sea water, making the oceans more acidic as carbonic acid forms. Marine phytoplankton emit sulfur compounds that are transformed into sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere.

Heat is constantly transferred between the air and oceans, which is why many coastal regions have relatively mild winter weather and cool summers. Water vapor evaporated from the seas produces clouds, which in turn shade (and thus cool) the underlying oceans.

Winds drive surface currents in the oceans and create waves. Strong winds turn those waves into whitecaps. Foam and spray from whitecaps propel salty droplets into the sky, creating sea salt aerosols.

Last modified September 26, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on the ocean, including articles on polar research, coral reefs, ocean acidification, and climate. Includes a gorgeous full color poster!

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