It’s clear to those in a hurricane’s path that they are seeing the effect of the ocean on their weather. It’s less clear–but equally true–that those in non-coastal areas also witness the effect our ocean has on their weather.
How? The ocean absorbs half of the sun’s heat that reaches the Earth, therefore influencing weather on a global scale as currents move water and heat around the planet and as the evaporation of ocean water leads to precipitation. One small change in ocean conditions can produce variations in weather patterns (in the short-term) and climate (in the long-term) over large portions of our planet. The consequences of these changes can have direct impacts (e.g., floods, storms, droughts) as well as indirect impacts (food insecurity, human health issues, etc.) far inland as well as in coastal areas. For example, during an El Niño, warm sea surface temperatures along the equator in the Pacific cause warmer-than-average temperatures in the western and northern United States, wetter-than-average conditions on the Gulf Coast, and drier-than-average conditions in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest. Its impacts are felt throughout nearly our entire country (and beyond). While scientists understand relationships between the ocean and the atmosphere, such as El Niño events, there is still much to learn about air-sea interactions. Meteorologists and climatologists are building our understanding of processes in the coupled ocean and atmosphere system and how these linkages affect weather and climate variability. Advances in global models of ocean currents bring us one step closer to comprehending ocean-atmosphere connections and providing improved local and regional forecasts and predictions.