Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 28 Issue 01

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Volume 28, No. 1
Pages 20 - 31

Ocean Salinity and the Global Water Cycle

Paul J. Durack
Article Abstract

Alterations to the global water cycle are of concern as Earth’s climate changes. Although policymakers are mainly interested in changes to terrestrial rainfall—where, when, and how much it’s going to rain—the largest component of the global water cycle operates over the ocean where nearly all of Earth’s free water resides. Approximately 80% of Earth’s surface freshwater fluxes occur over the ocean; its surface salinity responds to changing evaporation and precipitation patterns by displaying salty or fresh anomalies. The salinity field integrates sporadic surface fluxes over time, and after accounting for ocean circulation and mixing, salinity changes resulting from long-term alterations to surface evaporation and precipitation are evident. Thus, ocean salinity measurements can provide insights into water-cycle operation and its long-term change. Although poor observational coverage and an incomplete view of the interaction of all water-cycle components limits our understanding, climate models are beginning to provide insights that are complementing observations. This new information suggests that the global water cycle is rapidly intensifying.


Durack, P.J. 2015. Ocean salinity and the global water cycle. Oceanography 28(1):20–31, https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2015.03.


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