Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Oceans Matter: Heat Capacity & Climate

By Meteorologist/Oceanographer Alex Davies and Forecaster Mike Natoli

Did you know the heat capacity of the ocean is four times greater than that of the atmosphere? That means it will take four times longer to heat and cool a volume of water compared to volume of air under similar environment conditions. 

This is why it takes a while to boil a large pot of water when your make pasta, even though the heat coming-off the stove top burning is extremely hot. So why does that matter in terms of local or global climate? 

The ocean acts as the great regulator of our land surface temperatures, especially near the coast, and help to re-distribute heat from the equator to the poles through large-scalar surface current like the Gulf Stream, and through deep-ocean currents known as Thermohaline Circulation (meaning "heat" and "salt") or the "Ocean Conveyor Belt." 

"Ocean Conveyor Belt" from
Have you ever noticed that on hot summer days in mid-summer, it is more pleasant in places along the coast like Bethany Beach, Delaware or Fenwick Island, DE compared with inland locations like Salisbury, Maryland, Dover, Delaware, and Richmond, Virginia? 

This was because the ocean temperature during that time was only in the upper 70s, while the inland air temperatures were topping-out near 100 degrees, or more. The same thing happens in the early winter as places near the ocean or along The Chesapeake Bay or Delaware Bay often have a tougher time getting "all snow" events as the air temperature is being impacted by the relatively warmer water temperature.
So if you are looking for a snowy winter ahead, ironically you would want a COLD Chesapeake Bay and a WARM western Atlantic! We will soon take a long range look at that possibility in a future post.


Beauty said...

This is great information; I love the pasta and boiling water analogy.

Unknown said...

I have worked in the AC business and the Fireplace business for all my life. I do not fully understand why we use BTUs (British Thermal Units). A BTU by definition is the amount of energy it takes to increase 1 gallon on water by 1 degree. It takes more energy to raise and lower water temps. but I am using BTUs as a measurement for products that are designed to change air temps and I would like to know why?