What role do the oceans play in global climate change?

Oceans cover 70% of Earth’s surface and they are a crucial factor in climate regulation. The main way that energy is redistributed around the world is through the Global Ocean Conveyor Belt, which is a constantly moving system of deep-ocean circulation driven by temperature and salinity. The Ocean Conveyor moves seawater around the globe distributing vast quantities of heat and moisture around our planet.

The oceans and the atmosphere are in dynamic equilibrium, constantly exchanging energy, water, and carbon.  For example, when the atmosphere warms, much of that energy is transferred directly into the oceans. Then, as the oceans circulate around the globe (Ocean Conveyor Belt), they can transport heat across the planet and transfer much of that energy back into the atmosphere. This affects both the weather and climate of the global system.

This Ocean Conveyor Belt has been identified as an agent of dramatic historical climate changes, aiding in the activation and conclusion of past Ice Ages.

Human activities are currently shifting this balanced system and dynamic equilibrium.  The Freshwater input from sea ice melting at the poles, will change ocean water density, which alters the direction of the deep ocean currents disrupting the Ocean Conveyor Belt.

http://www.whoi.edu/main/topic/ocean-conveyor

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/conveyor.html

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