What is the hydrosphere?

What is the HYDROSPHERE?

The hydrosphere is the liquid water component of the Earth. It includes the oceans, seas, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. The hydrosphere covers about 70% of the surface of the Earth and is the home for many plants and animals.

The hydrosphere, like the atmosphere, is always in motion. The motion of rivers and streams can be easily seen, while the motion of the water within lakes and ponds is less obvious. Some of the motion of the oceans and seas can be easily seen while the large scale motions that move water great distances such as between the tropics and poles or between continents are more difficult to see. These types of motions are in the form of currents that move the warm waters in the tropics toward the poles, and colder water from the polar regions toward the tropics. These currents exist on the surface of the ocean and at great depths in the ocean (up to about 4km).

The characteristics of the ocean which affects its motion are its temperature and salinity. Warm water is less dense or lighter and therefore tends to move up toward the surface, while colder water is more dense or heavier and therefore tends to sink toward the bottom. Salty water is also more dense or heavier and thus tends to

sink, while fresh or less salty water is less dense or lighter and thus tends to rise toward the surface. The combination of the water's temperature and salinity determines whether it rises to the surface, sinks to the bottom or stays at some intermediate depth.

The oceans currents are also affected by the motion of the atmosphere, or winds, above it. The energy in the wind gets transferred to the ocean at the ocean surface affecting the motion of the water there. The effect of wind is largest at the ocean surface.

The ocean serves two main purposes in the climate system. First, it is a large reservoir of chemicals that can contribute to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere and energy absorbing 90% of the solar radiation which hits the surface. This reservoir changes very slowly limiting how fast the climate can change. Second, it works with the atmosphere to redistribute the energy received from the sun such that the heat in the topics, where a lot of energy is received from the sun, is transferred toward the poles, where heat is generally lost to space.

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