The Earth's climate affects the day-to-day lives of everybody on our planet. Many people are aware that our climate was very different thousands and millions of years ago, ranging from hot tropical to ice age conditions. These changes are often believed to have occurred slowly over a long time. However, large changes in climate have occurred in the past on timescales of a few tens of years. Potentially, such changes could occur during our lifetime.
The oceans play a big part in determining our present climate and weather patterns, as they transport large amounts of heat away from the tropics towards the poles. For example, the Gulf Stream transports warm water past the British Isles and keeps our climate mild. If changes occur in the way the ocean currents transport this heat, then we will see an impact on our weather.
We need to gain a better understanding in the physical processes involved in heat transport in the oceans, the interactions between atmosphere and ocean, and past rapid climate change events. This will help us to predict future climate changes. The projects involved in the RAPID and RAPID-WATCH programmes should enable some of the gaps in our current understanding to be filled.