The ocean covers 70% of the Earth's surface and holds roughly the same amount of heat in its upper 10m as the entire atmosphere. The ocean contains approximately fifty times the amount of carbon as the atmosphere, and almost all of Earth's water. It carries heat, carbon and water around the globe, exchanging properties with the atmosphere, the biosphere and the cryosphere in ways that we are only just beginning to observe and understand. In PAOC we undertake research questions concerning all these topics and more, with the aim of furthering understanding of past, present and future behavior of the ocean.
The exchanges of gases, of heat and of moisture/mass between the atmosphere and ocean are central to the dynamics of both fluids. PAOC researchers are active in developing better understanding of the processes governing these exchanges.
A significant challenge in understanding the changing earth system is to quantify and model the role of ocean ecosystems in the global carbon cycle. Researchers within PAOC are developing tools to allow marine ecosystems and biogeochemistry to be modeled within the framework of eddy-resolving models of the ocean circulation to better understand the interplay of the processes involved.
Marine chemists strive to understand the mechanisms and rates by which chemicals move through the marine environment. Many chemicals are there entirely naturally (e.g. salts from rivers and hydrothermal discharges at mid-ocean ridge crests), whereas others derive from human activities (e.g. lead, mercury, and persistent organic pollutants).
The ocean is a stratified fluid on a rotating Earth governed by the laws of mechanics and thermodynamics, driven from its upper surface by patterns of momentum and buoyancy fluxes. The ocean contains a wide variety of phenomena on a plethora of space and time scales, ranging from tides, internal gravity waves, large-scale ocean currents and geostrophic turbulence. Modeling the ocean is a formidable challenge; it is a turbulent fluid containing energetically active scales ranging from the global down to order 1 to 10km horizontally and some tens of meters vertically. Important scale interactions occur over the entire spectrum. The ocean also interacts with the cryosphere (land and sea-ice) and harbors life which plays a central role in biogeochemical cycles.
A major goal of oceanography is to combine all of the theoretical understanding we have about how a global fluid behaves with all of the observations pertaining to it. For anyone trying to understand climate, that means using the best ocean general circulation models, the best models of sea ice—which has a major high latitude influence on the ocean, and the best available estimates of the interacting meteorological fields.
Physical oceanography is the exploration and study of the physics and geography of the ocean currents and water properties. It has important applications in global climate, oceanic mixing, and coastal studies, as well as being a key element in interdisciplinary studies of primary production, hydrothermal vents, and oceanic flux and storage of carbon dioxide.