Latent heat flux

When water vapor condenses into clouds, rain, and ice, it releases latent heat to the atmosphere.


Rainfall adds less dense fresh water to the ocean surface, creating a stable layer that dampens eddies.


Changing sea surface temperatures shift wind speeds. That affects eddies, which in turn affect sea surface temperatures.


Winds create waves that alter the “roughness” of the sea surface, which in turn affects how winds flow over it.


Breaking waves capture air bubbles and inject them into the sea surface. The bubbles dampen eddy turbulence.


Breaking waves spray liquid water into the air. Winds lose some energy carrying airborne spray. This may act as a braking mechanism for hurricane winds that create lots of spray.


Heat breaks bonds between water molecules to create water vapor that evaporates into the air. The process cools the sea surface, transferring latent heat to the atmosphere.

Sensible Heat Flux

Heat flows from the usually warmer ocean to the cooler atmosphere.

Shortwave & longwave radiation

The ocean, sky, land, and clouds absorb shortwave radiation and re-emit longwave radiation (infrared rays).

Incoming solar radiation

The sun gives off high-energy shortwave radiation (mostly visible and ultraviolet light).


Microscopic plant and animal life can make water murky, blocking radiation from traveling deep and trapping it near the surface.

Shortwave radiation

Shortwave radiation can be absorbed deeper in the ocean, especially in clear water.

Turbulent eddies

Winds and waves create whorls of water of all sizes that constantly change the temperature, salinity, and contents of seawater at the surface. Air-sea exchanges of heat and fresh water also shift the density of surface water, causing water to move and creating more eddies.

Longwave radiation

Longwave radiation is absorbed only near the surface and is quickly re-radiated back to the atmosphere.

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