This picture shows some of the ways that the atmosphere and the ocean are connected.
Click on image for full size

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.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more


Have you ever left a glass of water out for a long time? Did you notice that the water disappears after a few days? That's because it evaporated! Evaporation is when water passes from a liquid to a gas....more


Raindrops form when tiny water droplets collide together in clouds to form bigger ones. When they get too heavy, rain falls out of the clouds. Rain is more than 5mm in diameter. The types of clouds that...more

Carbon Dioxide - CO2

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a kind of gas. There isn't that much carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, but it is still very important. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it helps trap heat coming...more

Sulfate Aerosols from Plankton

Aerosols are tiny particles that float around in the air. Some are tiny drops of liquid. Others are solid. They are all very, very small. Some aerosols come from the ocean. Small particles of sea salt...more

Earth's Radiation Budget

Light from the Sun shines on Earth. Some of that light reflects off clouds back into space. Some of the light makes it to the ground and warms our planet. The warm ground and oceans give off infrared (IR)...more


Wind is moving air. Warm air rises, and cool air comes in to take its place. This movement creates the winds around the globe. Winds move at different speeds and have different names based on their speed....more

Surface Ocean Currents

The water at the ocean surface is moved by powerful wind. The wind is able to move the top 400 meters of the ocean. This moving water is called surface ocean currents. Surface ocean currents form large...more

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