Blog entirely dedicated to the green world. Sustainability, renewable energy and much more

Is the ocean related to climate and weather on land?

Is the ocean related to climate and weather on land?

By daniele

Is the ocean related to climate and weather on land? Of course it is! In fact, it plays a fundamental role in shaping the climate zones we see on land. Even areas hundreds of miles away from any coastline are still largely influenced by the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), and today we’re going to explain why.

Solar energy

The ocean’s tight linkage with the atmosphere makes understanding its behavior vital for forecasting weather and climate conditions. Then, while land areas and the atmosphere absorb some sunlight, the majority of the sun’s radiation is absorbed by the ocean.

Actually, this often happens in the tropical waters around the Equator, where the ocean acts as a massive, heat-retaining solar panel. Since the Equator receives much more solar energy than the Poles, enormous horizontal and vertical ocean currents form and circulate this heat around the planet.

Heating spread

It is when the heating spread begins, as some of those currents carry heat for thousands of kilometers before releasing much of it back into the atmosphere, which also plays a part in this process by helping to retain heat that would otherwise quickly radiate into space after sunset.

For that reason, we can’t say the ocean just stores solar radiation because it is actually in charge of distributing heat around the globe. As you see, when water molecules are heated, they exchange freely with the air in a process called evaporation.

So, as ocean water is constantly evaporating, it increases the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air to form rain, storms, and clouds, influencing the location of wet and dry zones on land. Plus, the energy captured by the ocean creates the world’s most powerful and destructive storms and extreme events such as cyclones (including tropical and extra-tropical).

Ocean currents

Having said that, outside of Earth’s equatorial areas, weather patterns are driven largely by ocean currents, which are movements of ocean water in a continuous flow, mostly created by surface winds but also partly by temperature and salinity gradients, Earth’s rotation, and tides (the gravitational effects of the sun and moon).

Additionally, major current systems typically flow clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere, in circular patterns that

often trace the coastlines. Likewise, they act much like a conveyor belt, transporting warm water and precipitation from the equator toward the poles and cold water from the poles back to the tropics. 

Thus, currents regulate global climate, helping to counteract the uneven distribution of solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface. Without currents, regional temperatures would be more extreme (super hot at the equator and frigid toward the poles) and much less of Earth’s land would be habitable.

State of current global climate

Currently, over 90% of the extra heat trapped to the Earth by humanity’s carbon emissions is stored in the ocean, and from that percentage only about 2.3% warms the atmosphere, while the rest melts snow and ice and warms the land.

Fortunately, the atmosphere is warming less quickly than it otherwise would. However, that doesn’t mean that we can ignore it and lull ourselves into inaction as ocean warming only delays the full impact of climate change. 

What’s more, excess heat contributes to sea level rise due to thermal expansion, anoxic (without oxygen) ocean areas, melting of sea ice, marine heatwaves, coral bleaching and other inhospitable environments for marine life. Inexorably, much of the ocean’s newly absorbed heat will flow out into the atmosphere over the coming centuries.

In short

By now, weather forecasters have used ocean observations and knowledge of how ocean-atmosphere interactions shape climate, seasonal weather, and ocean patterns with observations of temperature (atmospheric and sea surface), atmospheric pressure, and other data to shape coupled models that allow numerical prediction of weather and climate over land. Thus, we can affirm that WMO has a strong interest in supporting ocean observations, research, and services.