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Did you know?

The oceans contain 97% of the world's water.

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The Vast Oceans

Swept by winds and seething with waves, the oceans are in ceaseless motion over 70 percent of Earth's surface. The powerful forces of wind and water combine to help regulate our worldwide climate.

The ocean and atmosphere transport heat from the equatorial regions toward the icy poles. The atmosphere sends heat through a complex, worldwide pattern of winds. As these winds blow across the oceans, they help drive the currents and exchange heat, moisture and gases with the water.

Wave height, measured by the TOPEX instrument.
While winds create daily, short-term weather changes, the oceans have a slower, much longer-lasting effect on climate. Ocean currents move more slowly than winds and retain more heat than the atmosphere. And while winds influence ocean currents, oceans also exert influence over winds, helping determine their direction and speed. This is the great dance between the oceans and the atmosphere.

Accurate observations of sea-surface height and ocean winds provide scientists with information about the speed and direction of ocean currents and about the heat stored in the ocean, which in turn reveals global climate variations. Because the oceans are so large, remote sensing from satellites has proved to be the only way to get global information about these vast, hard-to-measure expanses. Spaceborne altimeters can calculate ocean heights to within centimeters. Scatterometers, which measure how microwaves are reflected back from the ocean's surface, can measure the direction and speed of near-surface winds all over the world.

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Missions & Research:
JPL manages several missions and instruments that study the oceans.

Topex/Poseidon Ocean Surface Topography
   Earth experiences some of the most varied and interesting weather in our solar system. This is because 70% of our planet is covered with oceans whose currents transport heat and help create weather patterns. This site studies how we can better understand our oceans in order to improve our knowledge of weather.
Gravity and Climate Recovery Experiment (GRACE) Gravity and Climate Recovery Experiment (GRACE)
   This mission, launched in March 2002, will map variations in Earth's gravity field. GRACE will also study changes due to surface and deep ocean currents, runoff and ground water storage, and exchanges between glaciers and oceans.
Physical Oceanography Distributed Archive Center Physical Oceanography Distributed Archive Center
   This site provides data on sea-surface height, sea-surface temperature and ocean winds from a variety of different instruments.
Jason-1 Jason 1 and Topex/Poseidon
   Jason 1 and its predecessor Topex/Poseidon are joint U.S./French oceanography missions. Jason 1, launching in Dec. 2001, will continue the work of Topex/Poseidon and monitor global ocean ciruculation, improve global climate predicting and monitor events like El Niño.
Air Sea Interaction and Climate Team Air Sea Interaction and Climate Team
   This project studies how temperature, sea winds and the oceans interact.
Seawinds Seawinds
   The SeaWinds instrument on the QuikScat satellite is a specialized microwave radar that measures near-surface wind speed and direction under all weather and cloud conditions over Earth's oceans.
Ocean Science Research Element Ocean Science Research Element
   This project uses satellite data to study ocean currents, polar sea-ice, biological processes near the ocean surface and the exchange of water and energy between the ocean and the atmosphere.
Ocean Earth Science Information Partner (ESIP) Ocean Earth Science Information Partner (ESIP)
   This site allows users to create time-series plots and maps of sea level and temperature with data from several different instruments.
Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AIRSAR) Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AIRSAR)
   The AIRSAR instrument, which flies onboard a NASA airplane, is being used to map flood areas, tropical rainforests and agricultural regions.
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