Maps, Graphs, and Data

Energy and Matter: Water Cycle: Heating the Ocean (2012)

Water Cycle: Heating the Ocean

The Earth acts as a giant engine that uses solar power to move air in the atmosphere and water in the ocean. This engine drives the water cycle, which includes the movement of water from the ocean to the atmosphere by evaporation, from the atmosphere to the land by precipitation, and from the land back to the ocean by rivers and streams. The water cycle provides fresh water needed to sustain life. In this visualization series, the cycle begins when the top of the ocean absorbs sunlight. The sun's heat is dispersed in the upper ocean by waves and currents. Water has a high heat capacity and the ocean can absorb a lot of heat without much change in temperature. As a result, the ocean cools off very little at night. Materials forming the land surface such as rocks and soil, however, have lower heat capacity. Thus land temperature changes rapidly, even from night to day. The visualization shows the solar heating of Earth's surface, including the dynamic picture of key stages of water's cyclical journey from sea to air to land, and back again.

This is the first of a four-part series on the water cycle, which follows the journey of water from the ocean to the atmosphere, to the land, and back again to the ocean. The other videos are available online:

The Water Cycle: Following The Water:

The Water Cycle: Steaming The Air:

The Water Cycle: Watering The Land

Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio