The Effects of the Oceans on Temperature

Oceans have a profound effect on global temperature, because of their huge capacity to store heat and because they can moderate levels of atmospheric gases. Covering more than 70% of Earth and holding 97% of the water on the planet's surface, oceans function as huge reservoirs of heat. Ocean currents transport this stored heat and dissolved gases so that different areas of the world serve as either sources or sinks (repositories) for these components. While scientists know a great deal about oceanic and air circulation, they are less certain about the ocean's ability to store additional CO2 or about how much heat it will absorb.

The top eight feet of the oceans hold as much heat as Earth's entire atmosphere. As ocean waters circulate globally, heat is transferred from low altitudes to high altitudes, from north to south, and vertically from surface to deep oceans and back. But how is this heat apportioned? If heat is able to circulate through the entire oceanic depth range, the process could take centuries and the world's oceans could serve to buffer or delay global warming. Researchers are working to determine that possibility, but it remains one of many unanswered questions.

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