PFEL Climate & Marine Fisheries PFEL Climate & Marine Fisheries HomePacific Fisheries Environmental Laboratory Home
Climate, Climate Change & Global Warming Atomosphere - Ocean Interactions Marine Populations & Climate Variability Data Sources in Climate & Marine Fisheries Contact PFEL Climate & Marine Fisheries Staff
Search Climate & Marine Fisheries PFEL Climate & Marine Fisheries Sitemap Research in Climate & Marine Fisheries Publications in Climate & Marine Fisheries Links in Climate & Marine Fisheries

Atmosphere-Ocean Climate Interactions

How Does Atmospheric Climate Influence the Ocean?
The oceans and atmosphere store and exchange energy in the form of heat, moisture, and momentum. The oceans are obviously the Earth's largest reservoir of moisture. They also absorb heat more effectively than land and ice surfaces, and store heat more efficiently than land. Oceanic heat is released more slowly than on land, keeping coastal areas more temperate. Changes in the energy balance between the oceans and atmosphere play an important role in the planet's climate change.

The circulation of the oceans is affected by variations in atmospheric circulation. Surface currents are driven by the force of the wind pushing on the ocean surface. The frictional drag of the wind on the surface layer of the ocean creates currents. The wind also mixes surface waters creating what is called the mixed layer, where there is little vertical temperature change. Below the mixed layer lies the thermocline, a narrow zone of rapidly dropping temperature.

The deep ocean below the thermocline has its own circulation patterns driven by the density of the water, which is dependent on temperature and salinity (thermohaline circulation). Vertical motions through and below the thermocline allow heat to be stored in the deep ocean and released back into contact with the atmosphere.

Do the Oceans Affect the Weather?
Yes. Because of their ability to store huge quantities of heat and moisture, the oceans alter atmospheric conditions and the weather. For example, tropical storms form over warm ocean waters, which supply the energy for hurricanes and typhoons to grow and move, often over land. The winter storms that bring precipitation to the western U.S. originate over the North Pacific. Locally, upwelling in many coastal regions, such as California, provide a cool contrast in air temperature over the ocean and land that is conducive to frequent summer fog.

Atmosphere-Ocean Climate Interactions
Page 1
next arrow image