Cutting Edge > Topics > Climate Change > Visualizations > Ocean-Atmosphere Circulation

Ocean-Atmosphere Circulation

Compiled by Monica Bruckner at SERC.

This section includes visualizations to teach students about sea surface temperature (SST), currents, and climate-related trends such as ENSO and PDO. Visualizations include simple animations, GIS-based maps and animations, videos, as well as numerous illustrations and photos.

Click here to browse the complete set of Visualization Collections.

Circulation Patterns and Currents

El Nino and La Nina (more info) The Flash animation outlines the steps leading to the formation of the El Nino and La Nina over a ten month time span. The strength of the animation is its ability to view changes between atmospheric pressure conditions and oceanic circulation in both the plan view and cross section. These changes are viewed through three scenarios: normal conditions, El Nino conditions, and La Nina conditions. The animation can be paused and replayed to stress important points.

El Nino Southern Oscillation Animation (more info) This animation shows the vertical displacement of thermocline depth over time as it correlates to sea surface height and temperature.

El Nino Theme Page (more info) These three visualizations compare the variations in convective circulation and thermocline depth during El Nino, La Nina and normal conditions.

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) (more info) This site hosts a colored picture and graph of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) in its warm and cool phases. Supplementary information about the PDO is also included near the bottom of the page and related links to more information are included at the top of the page.

General Resources

CCM3 T170 Cloud and Precipitation Simulation (more info) This simulation, from NCAR, shows global patterns of water vapor and precipitation as they change throughout the year. Users may also view the simulation by month.

Global Climate Animations (more info) Flash animations and animated .gif files that show the climatology of the seasonal cycle for the time period 1959-1997 for variables including the global energy balance, global water balance, atmospheric circulation and winds, and global temperature.

Examine global surface currents (more info) This site animates cold and warm surface ocean currents. While it is true that wind does play a role in the direction of surface currents, temperature and salinity variations also drive ocean currents. Note that currents flowing toward the equator are generally cool and currents flowing away from the equator usually are warm.

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies show La Nina, El Nino and Normal Conditions in the Pacific Ocean (more info) TAO sea surface temperature comparisons.

Sea Surface Temperature Climatology (more info) Interactive animation of sea surface temperature.


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