The world’s oceans are essential for heating the planet. Although the land and the atmosphere absorb some sunlight, most solar radiation is absorbed by the ocean, and especially by tropical waters near the equator.
Why is water a good regulator of temperature?
The buffering effect of ambient humidity
The water cycle is key to maintaining the planet’s temperature. As water evaporates and rises from the oceans, the Earth’s surface heat is taken into the atmosphere; similar to the way sweat keeps our bodies cool.
But how do oceans regulate temperature?
Basically the oceans trap heat. Water from the oceans evaporates constantly, resulting in increased humidity and air temperature and the formation of rains and storms which are transported by the trade winds over long distances.
Almost all the rain which falls on earth originates from the ocean. The tropics are very rainy because heat absorption is very high in this area.
Ocean currents transport heat from tropical areas to the poles and cold at the poles to tropical areas and so regulate the planet’s temperature. Nowadays, the main ocean current systems generally flow clockwise in the northern hemisphere. But in the southern hemisphere they flow anticlockwise. Currents moving in circular patterns, however, tend to trace coast lines.
Ocean currents regulate the world’s climate by counteracting the uneven distribution of heat on the land surface. Without the currents regional temperatures could be extreme.
Without currents, temperatures at the equator would be too hot and at the poles too cold. So without the oceans, life on Earth would not be possible or at least not throughout the entire planet.
Our planet has a fever
The climate has varied enormously throughout the Earth’s history and will continue to do so, although in recent times it is changing fast due to human activity.
The atmosphere is not prepared for these changes and in the last 150 years there has been a constant increase in concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in its upper layers.
The main reason for the increase is the burning of fossil fuels: coal, oil and their derivatives and natural gas which are the most commonly used fuels for industry, transport and housing.
The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the upper layers of the planet creates a sort of ceiling in the highest parts of the atmosphere, preventing the heat generated by the Earth from dissipating into outer space. In that way, “global warming” is caused with its many harmful consequences for the planet and human beings.