Map of global seas surface temperatures during the 1983 El Nino event from NOAA/AVHRR infrared satellite data (left or top) and a similar image of the Gulf Stream (right or bottom). These photos reveal how ocean currents transfer heat from the tropics to the polar regions, helping to keep the Earth in thermal balances.
Thermal infrared images from Earth-orbiting satellites can be used to remotely determine the temperature of oceans and lakes. Such studies of the eastern Pacific Ocean are invaluable in making long-term weather predictions, and provided advanced warning of the El Nino event before the North American winter of 1998. These predictions were particularly useful in California, which received torrential rains and heavy snow. With the warnings, however, various governmental agencies were able to plan and cope with the heavy storms.

Sea surface temperatures are used to study how much heat the ocean receives from solar irradiation. Moreover, it reveals how much carbon dioxide the ocean absorbs, in important element in understanding global warming. Infrared data are used to study the large-scale movement of ocean currents and for monitoring breaking waves in the open sea, an indicator of stormy seas. Infrared satellite images are used to determine the location and movement of icebergs in the polar oceans.

Finally, ocean temperatures maps are a valuable tool for commercial and hobby fishermen. Game fish normally prefer to stay in waters within a well-defined temperature range. Ocean temperature data from infrared satellite detectors provide information on potential areas for catching certain types of fish -- and on areas to avoid.

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