Article image

Study reveals the ocean's hidden influence on global weather patterns

In a significant advancement in climate research, an international team of experts has linked ocean weather systems with the global climate. 

The research, led by Professor Hussein Aluie from the University of Rochester, offers a new perspective on how the Earth’s climate system operates.

Studying the ocean’s influence on weather

The ocean has weather patterns like what we experience on land, but on different time and length scales, explained study lead author Benjamin Storer, a research associate in Professor Aluie’s Turbulence and Complex Flow Group. 

A weather pattern on land might last a few days and be about 500 kilometers wide, while ocean weather patterns such as swirling eddies last three to four weeks but are about one-fifth the size, noted Storer.

These patterns have always been thought to impact climate scales, but until now, the specifics of this interaction were unclear. 

“Scientists have long speculated that these ubiquitous and seemingly random motions in the ocean communicate with climate scales, but it has always been vague because it wasn’t clear how to disentangle this complex system to measure their interactions,” said Professor Aluie. 

“We developed a framework that can do exactly that. What we found was not what people were expecting because it requires the mediation of the atmosphere.”

The method used for the study involved a mathematical technique devised by Professor Aluie in 2019, which the team refined and implemented into advanced coding. 

This technique enabled the experts to analyze energy transfers across various scales, from global circumferences to as small as 10 kilometers, using both advanced climate models and satellite data.

Implications and key insights

The findings indicate that ocean weather systems both gain and lose energy when interacting with climate scales. This interaction closely mirrors global atmospheric circulation patterns. 

Particularly noteworthy is the role of the intertropical convergence zone near the equator, responsible for a significant portion of global precipitation. This atmospheric band is a hotbed for energy transfer, intensifying ocean turbulence.

Storer and Aluie said that studying such complex fluid motion happening at multiple scales is not easy, but it has advantages over previous attempts to link weather to climate change. They believe the team’s work creates a promising framework for better understanding the climate system.

“There’s a lot of interest in how global warming and our changing climate is influencing extreme weather events,” said Professor Aluie. “Usually, such research efforts are based on statistical analysis that require expansive data to have confidence in the uncertainties.” 

“We are taking a different approach based on mechanistic analysis, which alleviates some of these requirements and allow us to understand cause and effect more easily.”

The collaborative effort included contributions from Michele Buzzicotti of the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Hemant Khatri of the University of Liverpool, and Stephen Griffies from Princeton

The study is published in the journal Science Advances


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day