Oceans and the weather

Gulf storm clouds by Bruce Stambaugh
Storm clouds gather at sunrise near Port Aransas, TX.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If it weren’t for the oceans of the world, the earth probably wouldn’t have weather as we know it. The landmasses then bear the brunt of nature’s bad weather and embrace her best. Considering that more than half of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of an ocean, their importance in weather making cannot be overstated.

Earth’s oceans occupy 71 percent of the world’s surface, and contain more than 97 percent of all the water contained on the globe. That huge volume of water helps create the weather that arrives on the planet’s landmasses.

Surprisingly, it is not so much the amount of water in the oceans that affects the weather as it is the temperature of the water. Just a degree or two warmer or cooler, and the oceans can have a dramatic effect on the weather experienced from season to season.

Oceans have an incredible ability to absorb, store and release heat into the atmosphere. It is this characteristic alone that affects the weather received around the world, even far inland.

Shelf cloud by Bruce Stambaugh
A shelf cloud of a severe thunderstorm moved over Ohio's Amish country.

This quality of ocean water also has the most dramatic affect on both climate and weather. Consider that the first 10 feet of ocean surface contains more heat than the earth’s entire atmosphere.

Major climate events, such as El Nino, result from ocean temperature changes. These temperature changes then impact weather events like hurricanes, typhoons, floods and droughts. Of course, those disasters directly relate to the success or failure of crops, and greatly affect the price of fruits, vegetables and grains, for example.

Just as the atmosphere is divided into layers, so are the oceans. The surface layer, the Epipelagic Zone, is also called the sunlight zone and extends from the surface to 660 feet deep. It is here that most of the visible light exists.

Naturally, with the light comes heating from the sun. This heating is responsible for the wide change in temperature that occurs in this zone seasonally and in latitudes. For example, surface water in the Persian Gulf can be 97 degrees Fahrenheit, while the water at the North Pole is 28 degrees.

Ocean circulations, waves, tides and sea breezes are other aspects of the ocean. Individually and collectively, they all influence the weather to some degree.

This article first appeared in the winter issue Farming Magazine.

Author: Bruce Stambaugh

Writer, marketer, columnist, author, photographer, birder, walker, hiker, husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, township trustee, converted Anabaptist, community activist, my life is crammed with all things people and nature and wonder. My late father gave me this penchant for giving and getting the most out of life, my late mother the courtesy, kindness, and creativity to see the joy in life. They both taught me to cherish the people I am with. I try and fail and try again.

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