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Sea Surface Temperature, Salinity and Density


Sea Surface Temperature

The oceans of the world are heated at the surface by the sun, and this heating is uneven for many reasons. The Earth's axial rotation, revolution about the sun, and tilt all play a role, as do the wind-driven ocean surface currents. The first animation in this group shows the long-term average sea surface temperature, with red and yellow depicting warmer waters and blue depicting colder waters. The most obvious feature of this temperature map is the variation of the temperature by latitude, from the warm region along the equator to the cold regions near the poles. Another visible feature is the cooler regions just off the western coasts of North America, South America, and Africa. On these coasts, winds blow from land to ocean and push the warm water away from the coast, allowing cooler water to rise up from deeper in the ocean.


An animation of average Sea Surface Temperature on a globe.    An animation of average Sea Surface Temperature on a globe.
Duration: 60.0 seconds
Available formats:
  1920x1080 (30 fps) MPEG-4   152 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) MPEG-4   89 MB
  512x288 (30 fps) MPEG-1   10 MB
  1920x1080 (60 fps) Frames (SST)
  1920x1080 (30 fps) Frames (SST)
  320x180     PNG           33 KB
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Global map of average Sea Surface Temperature (SST).    Global map of average Sea Surface Temperature (SST).

Available formats:
  8000 x 4000     TIFF     27 MB
  4000 x 2000     TIFF       7 MB
  2000 x 1000     TIFF       2 MB

This product is available through our Web Map Service.   Click here to learn more.



Sea Surface Temperature color scale
   Sea Surface Temperature color scale

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  1000 x 500       TIFF   210 KB
  500 x 250         TIFF     86 KB
  320 x 90           PNG       10 KB


Sea Surface Salinity

The heat of the sun also forces evaporation at the ocean's surface, which puts water vapor into the atmosphere but leaves minerals and salts behind, keeping the ocean salty. The salinity of the ocean also varies from place to place, because evaporation varies based on the sea surface temperature and wind, rivers and rain storms inject fresh water into the ocean, and melting or freezing sea ice affects the salinity of polar waters. The second animation in this group shows the long term average sea surface salinity, where white regions have the highest salinity and dark regions the lowest. Notice the higher salinity in the Atlantic, due partly to salty water coming from the Mediterranean, and the lower salinity at the mouths of major rivers.


An animation of average Sea Surface Salinity on a globe.    An animation of average Sea Surface Salinity on a globe.
Duration: 60.0 seconds
Available formats:
  1920x1080 (30 fps) MPEG-4   133 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) MPEG-4   77 MB
  512x288 (30 fps) MPEG-1   7 MB
  1920x1080 (60 fps) Frames (SSS)
  1920x1080 (30 fps) Frames (SSS)
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Global map of average Sea Surface Salinity (SSS).    Global map of average Sea Surface Salinity (SSS).

Available formats:
  8000 x 4000     TIFF     28 MB
  4000 x 2000     TIFF       7 MB
  2000 x 1000     TIFF       1 MB

This product is available through our Web Map Service.   Click here to learn more.



Sea Surface Salinity color scale
   Sea Surface Salinity color scale

Available formats:
  1000 x 500       TIFF   210 KB
  500 x 250         TIFF     82 KB
  320 x 90           PNG       10 KB


Sea Surface Density

The average density of sea surface water can be calculated from the average sea surface temperature and salinity using the state equation for seawater. The third animation shows the long term average sea surface density, with light blue regions having the least density and dark blue regions having the greatest density. The sea surface density variations are actually very small, less than 3% overall, but the variation is very important. There are three stable, dense regions in the ocean's surface, one in the sea around Iceland, Greenland, and Scandinavia and the other two near or under major Antarctic ice shelves. In these regions, the surface water becomes dense enough to sink and join the deep ocean currents. In fact, this sinking is thought to drive these deep currents as part of a system called the Thermohaline Circulation (see the animation The Thermohaline Circulation - The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt). This circulation has a strong effect on the Earth's climate, influencing the Gulf Stream, El Niño events, and both past and future Climate Shifts.


An animation of average Sea Surface Density on a globe.    An animation of average Sea Surface Density on a globe.
Duration: 60.0 seconds
Available formats:
  1920x1080 (30 fps) MPEG-4   149 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) MPEG-4   86 MB
  512x288 (30 fps) MPEG-1   10 MB
  1920x1080 (60 fps) Frames (Density)
  1920x1080 (30 fps) Frames (Density)
How to play our movies



Global map of average Sea Surface Density.    Global map of average Sea Surface Density.

Available formats:
  8000 x 4000     TIFF     27 MB
  4000 x 2000     TIFF       7 MB
  2000 x 1000     TIFF       1 MB

This product is available through our Web Map Service.   Click here to learn more.



Sea Surface Density color scale
   Sea Surface Density color scale

Available formats:
  1000 x 500       TIFF   193 KB
  500 x 250         TIFF     77 KB
  320 x 90           PNG       11 KB


Other Effects of Ocean Salinity

The link between ocean temperature, salinity, and density also has other consequences. Research shows that over the past few decades, vast regions of abnormal sea surface salinity - called Great Salinity Anomalies - have propagated around the far north Atlantic, impacting local ecosystems and the sinking of water masses. At mid-latitudes, salinity influences the depth to which water masses sink and how far they extend through the ocean. The location and depth of these water masses controls how heat and salt are transported between the tropics and high latitudes. Like atmospheric fronts that bring unstable weather, ocean fronts found at the interface between water masses are areas of high activity often correlated with important fisheries such as tuna.

In the tropics, sea surface salinity is primarily controlled by rainfall and river runoff; these sources of freshwater regulate how the oceans interact with the atmosphere. Affecting almost half of the world's human population each year, monsoons are driven by exchanges at the air-ocean boundary. Likewise, El Niño has profound effects on humankind and is, to an unknown extent, governed by ocean salinity. In fact, recent studies indicate that understanding salinity's effect on upper ocean buoyancy may be the key to better El Niño forecasts.

The long term averages (or "climatologies") of sea surface temperature and salinity used in these animations come from the World Ocean Atlas 2005 (WOA2005)

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Short URL to This Page:http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?3652
Animation Number:3652
Completed:2009-10-08
Animators:Helen-Nicole Kostis (UMBC) (Lead)
 Horace Mitchell (NASA/GSFC)
 Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC)
Producer:Ryan Fitzgibbons (UMBC)
Scientist:Susan Lozier (Duke University)
Platforms/Sensors/Data Sets:GTOPO30 Topography and Bathymetry
 Terra and Aqua/MODIS/Blue Marble: Next Generation (1/1/2004 - 12/31/2004)
 World Ocean Atlas 2005 (WOA05) Annual Temperature Climatology
Series:Earth Science Week
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
The Blue Marble Next Generation data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC) and NASA's Earth Observatory.
 
Keywords:
SVS >> Density
SVS >> HDTV
SVS >> Ocean Currents
SVS >> Ocean Floor
DLESE >> Physical oceanography
SVS >> Sea Surface Temperature
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Ocean Circulation
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Ocean Heat Budget
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Ocean Temperature >> Sea Surface Temperature
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Salinity/Density >> Density
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Salinity/Density >> Salinity
SVS >> Aquarius
SVS >> Copenhagen
SVS >> For Educators
SVS >> Water Cycle >> Condensation
SVS >> Sun and Earth
SVS >> Mixtures
SVS >> Density Differences
 
 


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Many of our multimedia items use the GCMD keywords. These keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 8.0.0.0.0

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