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How Ocean Currents Moderate Climate

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Credit: Helen-Nicole Kostis (UMBC) (Lead), Susan Lozier (Duke University), Horace Mitchell (NASA/GSFC), Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC), Ryan Fitzgibbons (UMBC), NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio. The Blue Marble Next Generation data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC) and NASA's Earth Observatory
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SeaSurfaceSalinity.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The Aquarius mission was launched to study sea surface salinity and how that is changing.

Why It Matters

Credit: Adam Cuerden
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plymouth_hoe_from_mountbatten_2.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Weather in England is cloudy and wet, even in summer, but not extremely cold [Figure2]

  • Salinity is the amount of dissolved salts in water. Different parts of the ocean have different salinity.
  • The Practical Salinity Scale is based on electrical conductivity to measure the concentration of ions in the seawater.

Explore More

With the links below, learn more about changing ocean salinity. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What are some reasons that the salinity of seawater could be increasing in some regions?
  2. What are some reasons that the salinity of seawater could be decreasing in some regions?
  3. What would happen to seawater density if global warming causes sea surface temperatures to rise? What if global warming increases evaporation? What is the net result?
  4. Some scientists fear that warmer temperatures in the Arctic will cause more ice to melt into the region of the North Atlantic where deep water forms. If this happens what will be the effect on global thermohaline circulation?
  5. In the case described above, what could be the effect on the Gulf Stream? How might that alter the climate of the British Isles and Western Europe?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Helen-Nicole Kostis (UMBC) (Lead), Susan Lozier (Duke University), Horace Mitchell (NASA/GSFC), Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC), Ryan Fitzgibbons (UMBC), NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio. The Blue Marble Next Generation data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC) and NASA's Earth Observatory; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SeaSurfaceSalinity.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Adam Cuerden; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plymouth_hoe_from_mountbatten_2.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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