Climate is a term that is more closely associated with landmasses than with the ocean. It refers to the weather patterns, temperature and lifeforms that are present in a certain region. However, without large oceans, there would be no distinguishable climates on Earth. Oceans play a vital role in maintaining Earth's various climates. These oceans also have climates of their own.
How Oceans Affect Climate
Oceans directly affect climate. Most of the energy from the sun strikes the surface of the oceans, which absorb this vast amount of energy, releasing it at different times and in different locations. This occurs because the heating of the ocean creates currents and trade winds.
Hot and cold ocean currents form when heated ocean water moves to colder parts of the Earth as cold ocean water moves to warmer areas. This movement of ocean water is called thermohaline circulation. Trade winds form as heated air over the ocean moves rapidly to colder areas and vice versa. Trade winds and currents largely drive the climate and weather patterns that regularly occur in various parts of the planet.
Oceans and Temperature
Oceans do not fluctuate in temperature as much as land because oceans absorb and release heat more slowly than land. This is largely because of the sheer size of the ocean; the vast bodies of water can absorb massive amounts of heat without any significant temperature change. In fact, the average temperature of the world's oceans is 39 degrees Fahrenheit. However, there are great differences in the surface temperature of the world's oceans in different locations. Near the equator, where most of the sun's energy strikes the Earth, the surface temperature of the ocean is much warmer. At the poles, where less of the sun's energy directly strikes the Earth, the surface of the ocean is frozen and covered with icebergs.
Oceans and Weather
The Earth's four oceans also have varying levels of weather activity. The movement of ocean currents and trade winds create much of the weather on the planet. Ocean currents transfer warm water to other parts of the world. As this ocean water releases heat, it also releases water vapor, which form clouds. Clouds gather and form large weather systems, which, in turn, are transported by trade winds. Weather patterns are more active over the oceans near the equator because the heat transfer and cloud formation is greatest there. This is why violent hurricanes are more common in tropical areas.
Oceans and Marine Life
Just as different land climates support different types of wildlife, different ocean climates support different types of marine life. Some marine animals, such as great white sharks and tropical fish, can only survive in the warm waters near the tropics. Other animals, such as the Arctic cod and many species of seals, have adapted to the frigid ocean currents of the Arctic.