Jekyll Island weather determines whether you spend your day enjoying outdoor fun, or confined in your hotel room. But what we see is what we get, because weather is dictated by the complex dance between sea and air and land known as ocean dynamics.
Say you're standing on Jekyll Island's Glory Beach, staring out over the Atlantic. Somewhere out there, over the horizon, lies Africa. But in between the Georgia and African coasts are countless leagues of ocean. All this water, combined with sun and wind, helps to fuel the powerful engine that determines Jekyll Island weather and influences the lives of countless plants and animals, including man.
The Atlantic has a huge
influence on our weather patterns. Much of the heat energy that makes our
planet livable comes from "heat sinks" created when sunlight warms
the water, creating heat energy that's absorbed and stored for later use.
Some of this energy is stored in the sea, but not all. A portion contributes to evaporation, creating water vapor that rises into the air. Water vapor contributes to rising atmospheric temperatures and creates humidity, which in turn forms rain and storms.
You've heard of the trade winds. They're a huge climate influencer. These winds are born from warm air that rises in the tropics. They flow in vast circular gyres until all the warmth is leached from them. Then they reverse flow, and return as cooler air. The trade winds can transport water stored in the atmosphere for great distances before this stored water falls as rain. Most of our rainwater originates in our oceans, maybe thousands of miles from where it ultimately falls as precipitation.
Jekyll Island weather (as well as most weather outside
equatorial regions) is driven by ocean currents mostly energized by wind.
Our Earth's rotation, tides, and gradients in wind and salinity are also
contributing factors. The oceans have gyres, too, water currents flowing in
great circular patterns. In the northern hemisphere, these currents flow
clockwise. And south of the equator, we see counter-clockwise patterns.
Currents not only influence Jekyll Island weather, but also affect climate on a grander scale. Think of currents as vast freight trains transporting warmer water and
rain from the equator toward the poles, and colder water back from the poles to
more tropical latitudes. All this serves to regulate global climate by
counteracting the uneven distribution of solar radiation reaching the Earth's
surface. The Gulf Stream is one such current, and a huge influencer of
our east coast climate. It flows north along the coast up towards Maine, then
veers northeast, heading for England. The Gulf Stream increases coastal
humidity and moderates coastal temperatures. It's the main reason England is
warmer, more humid and more subject to fog than, say, Canada.
On a smaller scale, current affects local areas like the Georgia coast, and may also play a roll in Jekyll Island weather. Along with the wind, current helps create wave action that contributes to coastal erosion. Waves deposit sand on Jekyll's beaches, and transports sand along the coast. Over time, this action will change Jekyll Island's shape, as well as other barrier islands up and down the coast, moving sand from one end of the islands to the other.
High tides serve to bring sand in from the depths (along with shells and other debris), all of which are left behind as the tide recedes. Tide action is also a vital element in the health of Jekyll Island's marshes and estuaries. High tides transport rich sediments, detritus and small sea life that provide food and nutrients for marsh grasses and larger sea life. Storm surges serve to intensify the affects of waves, currents and tides. Increased winds and high waters magnify shoreline erosion.
If you've ever waded, swam or played in the sea off Jekyll Island's beaches, you've learned that sea water tastes like salt. Oceans cover over 70% of our planet's surface, but actually 97% of all water is salty. All this salt comes from rocks on land. Carbon dioxide dissolved in rain creates a slightly acidic precipitation that can erode rock. These acids further dissolve it into salt and ions that ride stormwater runoff into streams and rivers, and then into our oceans. Sodium and chloride are two of the most common ions, and sodium chloride (NaCl) is salt. More mineral salt is extruded from hydrothermal vents and underwater volcano action. Ocean salt comes from many sources - maybe even Jimmy Buffett's lost shaker.
Several ecosystems exist
along Jekyll Island's coast. Estuaries are waters hosting communities of
plants and animals that thrive where rivers drain into the sea. Estuaries are
brackish, a mix of fresh and salt waters. They're mostly protected from the
ocean, but are dependent on other forces like river flow, currents, and the
tide to transport nutrients for animals like shellfish, turtles and fingerlings
during certain lifestyle stages. Estuaries also provide protected places for
coastal animals to nest and breed. These animals in turn provide food for
larger species, like the fish or shrimp that you might eat tonight in a Jekyll
Island restaurant. These commercial species are harvested by shrimpers and
fishers who depend on the sea and the health of our estuaries to make their
living and provide jobs for their families and friends.
"happening" place is the inter-tidal zone, an area between the
high water line and the level of low tide. This can be a harsh environment, but
many animals and plants have adapted to it and thrive there. Twice a day the
inter-tidal zone is exposed to the air at low tide, then alternatively flooded
as the tide flows back in. Organisms that live here have adapted to a harsh
environment and must deal with conditions that are sometimes dry, other times wet,
exposed to the full fury of the sun in summer, or freezing cold in winter.
Tough plants and animals thriving here may include birds like sand pipers and
plovers; marsh grasses; fish; shrimp and other shellfish; a variety of snails;
oysters; and worms that burrow in the sand. These sandy areas are constantly in
flux, affected by the action of wind and wave.
As you can see, the ocean
is a prominent force determining Jekyll Island weather. Its dynamics influence the lives of many plants and animals,
including humans living, working, and playing on the Georgia coast. We humans play
a vital role in keeping our oceans healthy and vibrant. We may be stewards of
the land, but we are also caretakers of the ocean. Let's work to keep it clean
and productive forever.
Want to learn more about how weather and climate affect Jekyll Island weather as well as the weather in your own neck of the woods? Follow the trade winds to the UCAR Center for Science Education and dive right in.