9.8: Ocean Currents and Climate
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How do ocean currents create giant redwoods?
The California Current brings cool water south along the western United States. Cool water contacting warmer water creates fog. This creates a favorable habitat for the giant redwoods of the northern California coast.
Surface Currents and Climate
Large ocean currents can have a big impact on climate, especially of nearby coasts. The Equator and the poles have very different climates today. But these regions would be much more different without ocean surface currents. These currents move heat around the globe. The best known of these is the Gulf Stream, which warms parts of Europe. But other currents also alter near-shore climates. Like the Gulf Stream, the Kushiro Current warms Japan. Cooler currents that move from the polar regions to the Equator also alter climate.
The Gulf Stream
The Gulf Stream carries warm water from near the Equator up the eastern coast of North America. Look at the map below (Figure below); it shows how the Gulf Stream warms both the water and land along the coast.
In this satellite photo, different colors indicate the temperatures of water and land. The warm Gulf Stream can be seen snaking up eastern North America.
The warm water then flows across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. The Gulf Stream's warm waters raise temperatures in the North Sea. The warmer ocean temperatures raise the air temperatures over land. The difference is between 3 to 6°C (5 to 11°F). London, U.K., for example, is about six degrees farther south than Quebec, Canada. However, London’s average January temperature is nearly 16°C (28°F) warmer. London also gets a lot of rain (Figure below). Air traveling over the warm Gulf Stream water picks up moisture. Quebec is much drier but much snowier (Figure below).
Quebec City, Quebec, in winter.
- Water in the Gulf Stream warms as it travels along the Equator. The Gulf Stream brings warm water north along the United States. It then travels across the northern Atlantic to the British Isles.
- The Gulf Stream creates a relatively warm wet climate for the British Isles. This compares with the frigid Quebec at about the same latitude.
- Ocean currents transfer heat from the Equator toward the poles. This moderates Earth's temperature.
- Why is England relatively mild and rainy in winter for its latitude? Why is central Canada, at the same latitude and during the same season, relatively dry and frigid?
- Where else do you think ocean currents might moderate global climate?
- What would Earth be like if ocean water did not move?
Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.
- What occurred in the Atacama desert in July 2011? Why was this noteworthy?
- What was the weather like in Australia in August and September 2011?
- What happened in the summer of 2011 in the United States?
- How many temperature records were broken in 2011 in the U.S.?
- Why are scientists monitoring the Arctic ice?
- What are the effects of the ice melt?
- How is the Gulf Stream affected by the melting of the Arctic ice?