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Although everyone knows that seawater is salty, few know that even small variations in ocean surface salinity (i.e., concentration of dissolved salts) can have dramatic effects on the water cycle and ocean circulation. Throughout Earth's history, certain processes have served to make the ocean salty. The weathering of rocks delivers minerals, including salt, into the ocean. Evaporation of ocean water and formation of sea ice both increase the salinity of the ocean.


Instruments aboard NASA's and NOAA's spacecrafts use their vantage point from space to collect global measurements of the ocean's surface temperature. Each day these instruments make thousands of measurements of broad swaths of the Earth - creating concurrent data sets of the entire planet. By developing global, detailed, and decades-long views of Sea Surface Temperature (SST), data obtained from NASA and NOAA satellites provide the basis for the prediction of climate change, ocean currents, and the potent El Niño-La Niña cycles.

Physical Ocean

Physical oceanography is the study of the physical properties and dynamic processes of the oceans. Physical oceanographers study the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere, how the ocean stores and releases heat, the physical properties (or chemical content) of water throughout the ocean, and the formation and movement of currents and coastal dynamics.

El Niño

One of the most well-known climate patterns that we have come to recognize and better understand is the El Niño. Every three to seven years during the months of December and January, the balance between, wind, ocean currents, oceanic and atmospheric temperature and bioshpere breaks down, resulting in a severe impact on global weather.

Water Cycle

Earth is a truly unique in its abundance of water. Water is necessary to sustaining life on Earth, and helps tie together the Earth's lands, oceans, and atmosphere into an integrated system. Precipitation, evaporation, freezing and melting and condensation are all part of the hydrological cycle - a never-ending global process of water circulation from clouds to land, to the ocean, and back to the clouds.

Carbon Cycle

The ocean plays a vital dominant role in the Earth's carbon cycle. The total amount of carbon in the ocean is about 50 times greater than the amount in the atmosphere, and is exchanged with the atmosphere on a time-scale of several hundred years. At least 1/2 of the oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthesis of marine plants. Currently, 48% of the carbon emitted to the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning is sequestered into the ocean.

Climate Variability

The ocean is a significant influence on Earth's weather and climate. The ocean covers 70% of the global surface. This great reservoir continuously exchanges heat, moisture, and carbon with the atmosphere, driving our weather patterns and influencing the slow, subtle changes in our climate.

Ocean & Earth System

Blue Marble
Just by looking at images of Earth from space, it's clear that the ocean is a significant piece of the Earth's story. In fact, the ocean represents over 70% of the Earth's surface and contains 97% of all water on Earth. The ocean stores heat like a "fly wheel" for climate.

Water & Energy Cycle

The Water and Energy Cycle Focus Area aims to develop capabilities to improve observations, model simulations and projections of the water and energy cycles at diverse spatial scales (local, regional, global) including extreme events. This scope aligns with research initiatives at other national and international programs, such as the Global Energy and Water cycle Experiment (GEWEX) and the water cycle activities of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.


The Earth’s weather system includes the dynamics of the atmosphere and its interaction with the oceans and land. Weather ranges from local or microphysical processes that occur in minutes through global-scale phenomena that we can predict with a degree of success at an estimated maximum of two weeks prior. The Weather focus area is important to the NASA Earth Science for two reasons:


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