This Earth Observing System interdisciplinary investigation will use data from various satellite instruments, data from other sources, and a variety of models to construct an integrated view of atmospheric climate over the oceans. Primary problem areas to be addressed include the role of circulation, clouds, radiation, water vapor, and precipitation in climate change, and the role of ocean-atmosphere interactions in the energy and water cycles. The physical processes considered involve boundary-layer dynamics and resulting fluxes, cloud-scale and mesoscale dynamics, cloud physics, and global scale circulations. To achieve a comprehensive understanding of climate and to predict future climate changes it is necessary to incorporate the interactions among clouds, water vapor, radiation fluxes, and various scales of motion from small-scale to planetary. New data from satellites, further utilization of existing data, and development and testing of improved models are all needed to achieve the goals of improved modeling of the atmosphere and its interactions with the ocean.

The surface climate of Earth is strongly influenced by the amount and distribution of water vapor, liquid water, and ice suspended in the atmosphere. Water in the atmosphere is the most important internal determinant of today's climate. The response of water vapor and clouds to a climate change is the single most important feedback process determining the magnitude of the climate change expected from forcings such as increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The processes that control water in the atmosphere are very complex and extend across a wide range of spatial scales from the few centimeter scale of turbulence in the boundary layer to the tens of thousands that characterize the scale of global atmospheric circulation systems. In order to address this broad range of scales and processes in a comprehensive way, it is necessary to draw on the expertise of a group of scientists and to provide a framework for cooperation. That is the purpose of this investigation.

Seven-tenths of the surface of Earth is covered with ocean, so that the humidity and cloud structure of the global atmosphere is largely determined by processes occurring in oceanic areas. The climate over land areas is set in a global context that is in substantial measure determined by processes that occur over the oceans. In order to focus the resources of this investigation, we begin by considering those processes that occur over the oceans, and neglect at the outset those processes that operate exclusively over land areas.

This investigation uses a combination of satellite data sets, conventional datasets, and models to understand important climate maintenance and feedback processes as they occur over the oceans. Satellite and in situ data are being used both to understand processes and to test and improve numerical models of the atmosphere. This enhanced understanding and modeling ability will improve forecasts of future climate changes expected from natural and human causes.

In order to provide a logical framework for discussion, the work of this investigation may be organized according to the phenomena of interest, but the goal is to treat these in a comprehensive manner that takes into account their interactions and gives an accurate representation of their net effect on climate sensitivity. Important phenomena are linked in the side bar.


SatView, an interactive tool for displaying satellite images and weather data, was developed at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington in conjunction with a program of scientific research conducted under the NASA EOS Climate Processes over the Oceans Investigation. To obtain a copy of SatView and view its documentation, click on the SatView logo.

Candace Gudmundson