As the Earth rotates in this animation, we see global sea surface temperature between April 2020 and April 2021. The real-time Science On a Sphere sea surface temperature dataset is provided by the NOAA Visualization Lab using data from NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch. The resolution of the data is 5 km/pixel. At this resolution, wavy ocean features such as the Gulf Stream along the East Coast of the United States are distinguishable. Growth and reduction of the warm water during the changing seasons can also be seen; for example, the red blob of warm water moves north in the northern hemisphere summer and south in the northern hemisphere winter. Sea surface temperature denoted by the color bar, 35°C = 95°F, 0°C = 32°F, where red depicts warm water and blue depicts cold.
Sea surface temperature, much like the atmosphere’s temperature, is constantly changing. Earth’s oceans impact climate and weather, which is why we monitor ocean conditions using satellites, ships, and buoys. Water warms up and cools down at a slower rate than air, so diurnal variations (heating during the day and cooling during the night) seen in the atmosphere are hard to observe in the ocean. The interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere is one that scientists are constantly researching, and the temperature of the sea surface is a key factor in those interactions. A sea surface temperature anomaly is the difference between the current temperature and the long-term temperature average. Tracking sea surface temperatures and creating anomaly maps help scientists quickly identify areas of warming and cooling, which can affect coral reef ecosystems, hurricane development, and the development of El Nino and La Nina.
Data visualizations are sometimes made for specific occasions like this one, created for the Deputy Director of the Global Systems Laboratory for “Big Picture Climate Change Air Panel” discussion at the Longmont Museum.
These highly detailed, daily images are possible because the data combines SST measurements from all current geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, including U.S. satellites and those of international partners such as Japan and Europe. By collecting data from multiple satellites, cloud-free composites can be generated on a daily basis because at some point, one of the satellites will get a cloud-free observation of the ocean surface during the 24-hour period. The resolution of the data is 5 km/pixel. At this resolution, wavy ocean features such as the Gulf Stream along the East Coast of the United States are distinguishable. The images used to make this animation come from the Science On a Sphere Dataset Catalog, are updated daily in near-real-time, and distributed to sites around the world.
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