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HOW DO PLATE TECTONICS AND OCEAN CURRENTS INFLUENCE CLIMATE

CHANGE?
-Affrika Laurelle
Climate change is a change in the pattern of weather, and related changes in oceans, land
surfaces and ice sheets, occurring over time scales of decades or longer -Australian
Academy of Science, 2016
The climate of a region or city is its typical or average weather. For example, the climate of
Hawaii is sunny and warm. But the climate of Antarctica is freezing cold. Earth's climate is
the average of all the world's regional climates.
Climate change, therefore, is a change in the typical or average weather of a region (NASA,
2011). This could be a change in a region's average of annual rainfall, or the change in a
city's average temperature for a given season or month.
Climate change is also a change in Earth's overall climate (NASA, 2011).
In the earths system a change in climate of a specific area will cause a change in climate
around the globe (Jackson, Tenenbaum , 2016). This is shown in many ways eg. melting of
ice sheets, carbon emissions, Plate tectonics and ocean circulation.
Patterns of ocean circulation have strong effect on global climate (Berlin-Brandenburg
Academy of Sciences and German Academy Leopoldina, 1997). The equator receives more
solar radiation than the Poles, however the equator is not increasing in temperature, and the
poles are not decreasing (Pidwirny, 2013). This is because ocean and wind transfers the
heat is from low latitudes to the high latitudes. one way that the ocean transfers heat is the
NADW (North Atlantic Deep Water) this works by transferring the cold and salty Northern
Atlantic water that sinks to the bottom due to high density. This is then transferred south,
where at low altitudes it rises towards the surface, being forced by the denser water of the
Antarctic. Water from low altitudes flows north to replace the dense, sinking water. As it
moves north it loses heat and the cycle repeats. This creates a transfer of heat in the ocean
that is mostly even and acts similar to a conveyor belt. This kind of heat transfer is called
thermohaline circulation.
when the heat is distributed through NADW the entire global climate changes. For example,
12000 years ago glaciers were melting rapidly due to the end of glacial age (Daily News,
2010). The melting of glaciers moved a lot of fresh water into the salty North Atlantic in a
short time, decreasing the salinity of the ocean and thus, reducing its density. This decrease
caused the NADW production to decrease. This then plunged the world back into a cooling
period that lasted another 1000 years.
plate tectonics also has a strong effect on the climate around the globe as the earths
lithospheric plates move the continents of the world move along as well. The arrangement of
the continents has a strong effect on the earths climate (Jackson, 2016). Taking continental
ice sheets as an example, the requirements are large land areas with high latitudes where
snow has the ability to form thick masses of ice ( Prof. Nelson, 2015). These high latitudes
are mostly created by movement in the tectonic plates. where oceans occupy polar areas
the accumulation of snow is limited because of melting in salty ocean waters, this then
brings us back to the NADW.
Plate tectonics affects climate in other ways besides the positioning of continents. Volcanos
also have a high impact on the climate around the globe, or at least, in some areas of the
world (Cosmato, 2010).Volcanoes are created when tectonic plates split apart allowing the
inner magma to flow out of the top and over hundreds of years this creates a mountain
shape with a long tube connecting the atmosphere to the magma. Volcanoes along active
plate margins have increased volcanic activity. Volcanoes release Carbon Dioxide which is a
gas that traps heat in the atmosphere (Cosmato, 2010). In this way plate tectonics can
cause global climate to warm. However volcanic activity also emits dust to the atmosphere,

which blocks out radiation. This tends to decrease global temperature. While carbon has
entered the atmosphere for millions of years through natural events such as volcanic
eruptions, the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of land has resulted in the highest levels of
greenhouse pollution in our atmosphere in the last 800,000 years (ACF, 2016)
REFERENCES
http://www.everettsd.org/cms/lib07/WA01920133/Centricity/Domain/660/CS%2012.4.pdf
http://pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/Lectures/ocean_currents.html
http://www.brighthub.com/environment/science-environmental/articles/74098.aspx
http://www.britannica.com/science/climate-change
http://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/eens1110/glaciers.htm
https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18949-the-history-of-ice-on-earth/
http://climate.nasa.gov/resources/education/pbs_modules/lesson2Overview/
https://www.acfonline.org.au/be-informed/climate-change/impacts-threats
http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-is-climate-change-58.html
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