April 21, 2020

This visualization shows sea surface temperature (SST) data from January 2016 through March 2020. Ocean temperatures are displayed between 0 degrees Celsius (C) and 32 degrees C.

Sea surface temperature (water temperature at the sea's surface, where the ocean is in direct contact with the atmosphere) plays a large role in climate and weather. For example, every 3 to 7 years, a swath of the Pacific Ocean along the equator warms by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). This warming is a hallmark of the climate pattern El Niño, which changes rainfall patterns around the globe, causing heavy rainfall in the southern United States and severe drought in Australia, Indonesia and southern Asia.

On a smaller scale, ocean temperatures influence the development of tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons), which draw energy from warm ocean waters to form and intensify.

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