Southern California Coast- Hydrosphere

Local Scale

Tourists flock to Los Angeles every summer for the warm weather and the many beaches. But
one step into the ocean leaves many asking, “Why is the water so cold? I thought this was
summer! The Atlantic is warmer than this!” This map of the Southern California coastline in
summer shows that ocean surface temperatures range from ~57°F (green) to ~66°F (yellow).
Many processes affect the ocean temperature, including ocean currents, the Coriolis Effect and
upwelling. The primary current along the California coast is the California Current, one aspect of
the North Pacific Gyre. Because the water flows in a clockwise fashion, the California Current
contains cold northern waters. The Coriolis Effect causes the top layer of water along the
California coast to be pulled westward, which allows for deeper, colder water to rise to the
surface. This process is called upwelling.

Regional Scale

As we zoom out to a regional scale, we can compare the summer ocean temperatures of the West
Coast with those of the East Coast of the United States. The Gulf of Mexico and most of the
Atlantic Coast have ocean surface temperatures around 76°F. This is due to the Gulf Stream, an
ocean current that runs along the East Coast, pulling warm water from the Caribbean upwards
towards the North Atlantic Current. Generally speaking, warm ocean currents are found on the
eastern side of continents while cold ocean currents are found on the western side. Also, warm
ocean currents generally flow poleward from the equator, whereas cold ocean currents typically
flow towards the equator.

Global Scale

As we zoom out to a global scale, we can see ocean surface water temperatures for most of the
Earth during the (northern hemisphere’s) summer. The highest temperatures are concentrated at
the equator and the tropics. This is due to the high levels of direct sunlight that the equatorial
region receives and the low albedo levels of water, which allow the sunlight to help warm the
surface of the ocean. Interestingly, the changes of ocean surface temperatures occur in similar
locations to where changes in climate occur. For example, the warmest waters are found near the
equator, while the coldest surface water temperatures are found at the poles. In between the
equator and the poles is a relatively smooth transition from warmer to colder water.
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