Chapter 1 - A Voyage of Discovery 

Chapter 1 Contents

The role of the ocean on weather and climate is often discussed in the news. Who has not heard of El Niño and changing weather patterns, the Atlantic hurricane season and storm surges. Yet, what exactly is the role of the ocean? And, why do we care?

1.1 Why study the Physics of the ocean?

The answer depends on our interests, which devolves from our use of the oceans. Three broad themes are important:

  1. We get food from the ocean. Hence we may be interested in processes which influence the sea just as farmers are interested in the weather and climate. The ocean not only has weather such as temperature changes and currents, but the oceanic weather fertilizes the sea. The atmospheric weather seldom fertilizes fields except for the small amount of nitrogen fixed by lightning.
  2. We use the ocean. We build structures on the shore or just offshore. We use the ocean for transport. We obtain oil and gas below the ocean. And, we use the ocean for recreation, swimming, boating, fishing, surfing, and diving. Hence we are interested in processes that influence these activities, especially waves, winds, currents, and temperature.
  3. The ocean strongly influences weather and climate. The ocean influence the distribution of rainfall, droughts, floods, regional climate, and the development of storms, hurricanes, and typhoons. It dominates global warming processes. Hence we are interested in air-sea interactions, especially the fluxes of heat and water across the sea surface, the transport of heat by the ocean, and the influence of the ocean on climate and weather patterns.

These themes influence our selection of topics to study. The topics then determine what we measure, how the measurements are made, and the geographic areas of interest. Some processes are local, such as the breaking of waves on a beach, some are regional, such as the influence of the North Pacific on Alaskan weather, and some are global, such as the influence of the oceans on changing climate and global warming.

If indeed, these reasons for the study of the ocean are important, lets begin a voyage of discovery. Any voyage needs a destination. What is ours?

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