1.4 The Big Picture
The ocean is one part of the earth system. It mediates processes in the atmosphere by the transfers of mass, momentum, and energy through the sea surface. It receives water and dissolved substances from the land. And, it lays down sediments that eventually become rocks on land. Hence an understanding of the ocean is important for understanding the earth as a system, especially for understanding important problems such as global change or global warming. At a lower level, physical oceanography and meteorology are merging. The ocean provides the feedback leading to slow changes in the atmosphere.
As we study the ocean, I hope you will notice that we use theory, observations, and numerical models to describe ocean dynamics. None is sufficient by itself.
By combining theory and observations in numerical models we avoid some of the difficulties associated with each approach used separately (Figure 1.1). Continued refinements of the combined approach are leading to ever-more-precise descriptions of the ocean. The ultimate goal is to know the ocean well enough to predict the future changes in the environment, including climate change or the response of fisheries to overfishing.
The combination of theory, observations, and computer models is relatively new. Four decades of exponential growth in computing power has made available desktop computers capable of simulating important physical processes and oceanic dynamics.
The combination of theory, observations, and computer models also implies a new way of doing oceanography. In the past, an oceanographer would devise a theory, collect data to test the theory, and publish the results. Now, the tasks have become so specialized that few can do it all. Few excel in theory, collecting data, and numerical simulations. Instead, the work is done more and more by teams of scientists and engineers.
|Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Robert H. Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Updated on August 25, 2008