Heat Stored Beneath the Ocean Surface
Source: PBS Learning Media (Adapted from NASA and NOAA research)
[10-May-2017] The ocean, together with the atmosphere, plays an important role in the flow of energy through the Earth system. Because the ocean is massive and water has a high specific heat - a measure of the amount of heat needed to change a unit mass of a substance by 1°C - the ocean can store a lot of thermal energy without much change in temperature. The surface of the ocean absorbs energy from sunlight, which is then stored as thermal energy in the water. Winds and currents mix the upper layers of water so that energy is dispersed throughout the topmost layers. Ocean currents, eddies, and gyres circulate energy around the world. About 70 percent of Earth's surface is covered by the ocean, which has an average depth of about 3,700 meters (12,100 feet) and acts as a giant reservoir for thermal energy.
Over time, there are variations in Earth's ocean temperatures:some areas show warming, while other areas show cooling. A warming ocean, due to increases in heat in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases, will have consequences, such as sea level rise from the thermal expansion of water, changes in ocean circulation patterns, and altered marine ecosystems. Understanding how the ocean absorbs and releases heat is key to modeling global climate and predicting future changes.
Teachers and students will learn about changes in ocean temperature in recent years with this slideshow adapted from NASA and NOAA, provided along with background information, discussion tips, and links to educational standards. They will be able to use the media assets provided by the online resource to:
- Stimulate thinking and questions about where energy is stored in the ocean system;
- Provide relevance and contexts to learning and applying science and engineering practices;
- Visualize data, including large data sets; and
- Provide opportunities for students to ask questions, measure and record data, analyze and interpret data, make evidence-based claims, and communicate explanations with others.
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