Global Climate Change The Exploratorium
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The oceans, which cover more than 70% of the earth’s surface, play a fundamental and complex role in regulating climate. The oceans absorb huge amounts of solar energy; ocean currents transport this heat from the equator toward the Poles. In the past, long-term, natural oscillations in the oceans’ capacity to store and transport heat have led to global temperature changes. Future climate changes—whether natural or human-induced—will also be strongly influenced by the powerful dynamics of the seas.

As part of a vast planetary cycle of evaporation and rainfall, the oceans are also fundamental to the movement of water around the globe. Measuring changes in precipitation patterns, and understanding how they may lead to droughts in some regions and flooding in others, is a major part of predicting the potential effects of global climate change on human activities and natural ecosystems.

 glossary glossary terms  

Click for definitions of words used on this page:

El Niño
heat capacity
La Niña
remote sensing

View the full, printable version of the glossary.

Today’s Sea Surface Temp thumbnail

Today’s Sea Surface Temperatures - Space Science and Engineering Center: University of Wisconsin-Madison
near real-time data

Weekly Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly

Weekly Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
near real-time data

U.S. Drought Monitor

U.S. Drought Monitor - National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center
near real-time data

TAO/Triton Sea Surface Temperature and Winds

TAO/Triton Sea Surface Temperature and Winds - Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) Project
long-term data

JMA Index thumbnail

JMA Index Showing El Niño and La Niña Years - Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, Florida State University (COAPS)
near real-time data

 questions about this section  

question Why is studying the ocean important to understanding climate change?

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 more sites about the hydrosphere

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/Ocean Currents Slow - Article describing changes in ocean currents over the last fifty years, including links to research projects and related sites.

NASA’s Global Hydrology and Climate Center - Access to data (including daily images from weather satellites), links to other sites with data, information, and links to research projects.

Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) - Access to data, information on El Niño/Southern Oscillation, and links related to research in air-sea interactions, modeling, and climate prediction.

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