Our world, Earth, is changing before our eyes. Go back millions of years. Forests reached into polar regions, sea levels rose, and temperatures soared with high levels of the greenhouse gas, carbon di...
oxide in the atmosphere. A long cooling period followed. But now CO2 is on the rise again. What will happen? How will we live in the New World that's now emerging?
Scientists are intensively tracking the workings of planet Earth with satellites that chart its winds, ocean currents, temperatures, plant growth, and more. And with a new virtual Earth, shrunk down and converted into physical equations, satellite data, and computer codes.
This other Earth, a mirror of the one in which we live, is designed to follow the flow of heat through the complex, dynamic engine known as the climate... and to predict its future evolution. You can see the pattern of heat input in this sequence showing surface temperatures. As the seasons shift, heat builds and dissipates, most notably across tropical and subtropical regions. How does Earth dissipate this build up of heat? Look below. The oceans cover 71% of the planet's surface, at an average depth of more than four kilometers.
They act like an immense battery that can store and release energy over long periods of time, while transporting heat from warm to cool regions. The oceans are set in motion by the unevenness of solar heating... due to the amount of sunlight striking the tropics versus the poles, along with the cycles of day and night and the seasons.
That causes warm, tropical winds to blow toward the poles, and cold polar air to push toward the equator. Wind currents, in turn, drive surface ocean currents. This computer simulation shows the Gulfstream winding its way north along the coast of North America. This great ocean river carries enough heat energy to power the industrial world a hundred times over.
It breaks down in massive whirlpools that spread warm tropical waters over northern seas. Below the surface, this current mixes with cold deep currents that swirl around undersea ledges and mountains. When heat builds within tropical oceans in late summer, it can be released in a fury.
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