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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:

Atmospheric Composition

Variations in constituents such as ozone and aerosols affect air quality, weather and climate. Atmospheric composition is central to Earth system dynamics because the atmosphere integrates spatially varying surface emissions globally on time scales from weeks to years.

Climate Variability & Change

NASA’s Climate Variability and Change Focus Area (CVC) studies global climate and sea level to understand their change on seasonal to decadal timescales. Home to NASA’s research programs in Physical Oceanography, Cryospheric Sciences, and Modeling and Data Assimilation, the CVC Focus Area fosters interdisciplinary science to understand the role of oceans and ice in the Earth system, and supports advanced modeling capabilities to improve our understanding of the physical processes that control the earth system and enable prediction.


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