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Why is the ocean surface slightly warmer than the atmosphere?

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How much warmer is the ocean surface than the atmosphere directly above it? The present study offers a means to quantify this temperature difference using a conceptual nonlinear one-dimensional global energy balance coupled ocean–atmosphere model ("Aqua Planet"). The significance of our idealized model, which is of intermediate complexity, is its ability to obtain an analytical solution for the global average temperatures. Our analytical model results show that, for the present climate, predicted global mean ocean temperature is 291.1 K whereas surface atmospheric temperature above the ocean surface is 287.4 K. Thus, the modeled surface ocean is 3.7 K warmer than the atmosphere above it. Temporal perturbation of the global mean solution obtained for "Aqua Planet" showed a stable system. Oscillation amplitude of the atmospheric temperature anomaly is greater in magnitude than those found in the ocean. There is a phase shift (a lag in the ocean), which is caused by oceanic thermal inertia. Climate feedbacks due to selected climate parameters such as incoming radiation, cloud cover, and CO2 are discussed. Warming obtained with our model compares well with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) estimations. Application of our model to local regions illuminates the importance of evaporative cooling in determining derived air–sea temperature offsets, where an increase in the latter increases the systems overall sensitivity to evaporative cooling.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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  • The Journal of Marine Research, one of the oldest journals in American marine science, publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. Biological studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. The editors strive always to serve authors and readers in the academic oceanographic community by publishing papers vital to the marine research in the long and rich tradition of the Sears Foundation for Marine Research. We welcome you to the Journal of Marine Research.
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