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Part of the Climate Change exhibition.
Measuring ocean temperature and chemistry is no simple task: the ocean is vast and deep, and it is not the same everywhere. But by drawing on a variety of tools, scientists are slowly developing a better picture of how the ocean is changing and how it might continue to change in the future.
Scientists studying the ocean's present and past temperature and chemistry have some answers.
Ships traveling between the continents have long been one of the best sources for information about the ocean. Many ships measure water temperature and chemistry as they pass through the ocean, take samples back to labs for further analysis, or drop devices that record water temperature and chemistry over days, months, or years.
Ships do not cover every inch of the ocean—in fact, most only travel along narrow shipping lanes. To take global ocean measurements, scientists now also rely on satellites that record sea surface height and temperature.
Buoy Network Satellite observations give a good overall sense of surface ocean temperatures, but for more detailed information about temperatures below the surface, as well as ocean chemistry, many scientists rely on floats regularly spaced around the globe. Such devices, like the buoy here, can be outfitted to measure temperature, pH, salinity, or CO2 content.
Buoys and floats are more or less fixed in space: some can move up and down, but all are anchored in one spot. Ocean gliders like this one, however, can be programmed to travel for up to five weeks at a time, usually along coastlines, surfacing periodically to transmit data. They propel themselves through the ocean by changing their buoyancy, moving up and down through the water column in a sawtooth pattern.