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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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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