DURING LUNCH IT STOPPED RAINING, and the sun broke through the clouds. Julie and Tom finished their sandwiches and went outside to kick a soccer ball around on the lawn. After draining my coffee cup, I joined them.

We set up a goal and Tom played goalie. Julie and I took turns shooting the ball at him, but I could tell that Julie’s mind was on something else. After a little while she signaled “enough” and went to sit on the edge of the deck. I sat down beside her.

“What are you thinking?” I asked.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the ocean,” she answered. “Could we drive over to the outer beach and take a walk? I bet I could think better over there, by the big ocean.”

I waved Tom over. He was fine with the idea. “Okay, go put on your bathing suits,” I said. “Boogie boards or no boogie boards?”

“No boogie boards,” said Julie. “I just want to walk for a while and look at the ocean.”

A half hour later, we park at one end of the big parking lot next to the ocean. It’s almost filled with cars. Most people have set up their chairs and spread their towels on the beach in front of the Snack Shack. We want more space, so we hike south along the water’s edge. There isn’t much surf today. Small waves break against the sand and sweep toward us, then lose their strength and slide back into the deeper water. Tom has brought a Frisbee, and he and I toss it back and forth. Julie walks along behind us, by herself.

Our Visit to Nauset Beach

The path that leads to the beach.


Our Visit to Nauset Beach

We’re almost there!


Our Visit to Nauset Beach

The first glimpse of the ocean is always exciting.


Our Visit to Nauset Beach

Nauset Beach on a bright, sunny day.


Our Visit to Nauset Beach

The wind and moving water build sand dunes along the beach.


Our Visit to Nauset Beach

Beach grass on the dunes helps keep the sand from blowing away.


Our Visit to Nauset Beach

Beach grass is special because it can live in pure sand.


Our Visit to Nauset Beach

“When I was young, we used to jump off the dunes into the soft sand. Now the dunes are protected so the beach grass can grow undisturbed.


After a little while I drop back to ask Julie how she’s doing. “Oh, I’m fine,” she says, tossing her hair back out of her eyes. “But it’s just so BIG!”

“What’s so big?” I ask.

Julie flops down in the sand and points out to sea. “That!” she answers. “The ocean! It just goes on and on and on.”

Tom waits for us to catch up—he’s heard what Julie said. “Remember when we saw Earth from out in space?” he reminds us. “It was mostly blue. That was all ocean. There were just some islands of land.”

“Yes,” Julie answers, looking out over the swells rolling toward us. “I looked up stuff about the oceans on the computer last night, and it said that almost three-quarters of Earth is covered with water.”

“I remember learning that, but it still seems amazing,” I say. “Today at lunch you said the ocean is really cool. What do you mean by that?”

“You know, cool! I mean it’s cool because it’s so pretty, and because it makes all the fish and seals and whales and things really happy.”

Julie jumps to her feet and skips down to the water’s edge. When a wave rolls in and splashes against her legs, she shrieks and runs back to us. “Feel that,” she says to Tom, patting her leg.

Tom puts his hand on her wet knee. “That’s cool, all right,” he says. “In fact, it’s cold! I’m not swimming in that water!”

Julie spreads out her towel and flops down on it. “See what I mean?” she says, drying her legs. “And it’s really important. On the Internet it says that oceans help keep the Earth from heating up too much. They keep everything cool.”

“The oceans help keep the Earth from heating up too much. They keep us cool.”

Tom isn’t so sure. “Remember when we went to Florida to visit Aunt Maria and Uncle Aaron? The water down there was really warm. And even the water here will be warmer later in the summer.”

“True,” Julie says. Popping up off her towel, she kneels in the sand and writes COOL in big letters.

“But think about the North Pole and the South Pole. The oceans there are full of ice. So that really cools things down a lot. Not only that,” Julie goes on, “the ice up there is white, like snow, so a lot of the heat and light from the sun bounce right off it.”

Just Right by Mon Cochran

Tom gets up off his towel, too, and runs down to the water’s edge. He lets an incoming wave splash around his ankles, then runs back. “Still cold!” he announces, and looks over at Julie. “What about this ocean right here?” he asks her. “Do the sun’s rays bounce off it, like they do at the North Pole?”

Julie is writing another word in the sand: SPONGE.

“Not exactly,” she replies, “’cause it’s not ice. But the ocean water is like a big sponge,” she says, squinting up at us. “It soaks up most of the sun’s heat that hits it.

Just Right by Mon Cochran

“Oh, and another thing.” She looks over at Tom, who is spinning the Frisbee on his finger. “I read that the ocean also soaks up a lot of carbon dioxide gas, Gas Man.”

“Really?” Tom says, looking over at me. He loses control of the spinning Frisbee and has to retrieve it from the sand.

“Julie’s right,” I answer. In the sand, under SPONGE, I write CARBON DIOXIDE.

“The ocean is a huge sponge that sucks up both heat from the sun and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Tom.”

“Awesome!” Tom shouts. He spins the Frisbee out in front of himself with a flick of the wrist, then grabs for it and misses as it flies back past him.

Just Right by Mon Cochran

“So the atmosphere and the oceans are working together. The oceans keep our world from getting too hot by soaking up some of the heat from the sun. And they gobble up carbon so it doesn’t make our atmosphere too thick. That is cool!”

“Correct,” I say, standing up. “Now, how about we cool ourselves down with a little ice cream from the Snack Shack?”

“Maple walnut! I’m having maple walnut!” Julie yells, grabbing her towel and running up the beach.

Tom picks up his towel and the Frisbee. “I hope they have Heath Bar crunch,” he mumbles to himself.

Me, I’m having plain old chocolate.

When we get back home from the beach, Julie wants to show us two pictures she found. She sits down in front of the computer and types ocean currents into the search line. Up comes a flat picture of the Earth with what looks like red and blue ribbons snaking through the oceans.

Just Right by Mon Cochran
The Earth’s Main Ocean Currents
Warm and cool currents move through the Earth’s oceans like a nonstop conveyer belt. The red part shows warm currents closer to the surface of the ocean. The blue part shows the cold currents deep in the ocean.

“Remember how I was saying the oceans help keep our Earth the right temperature?” she says, turning to Tom and me. “Here’s how it works.” She points to the picture. “Deep in the ocean, the water is moving along in streams. They’re called currents.”

The red ribbon in the picture says warm and the blue ribbon says cold. Both ribbons have arrows in them. “What’s happening with these currents?” I ask Julie. “Are they carrying water?”

Julie gives me a thumbs-up and launches into her explanation. “Deep down in the ocean,” she begins, “the water is moving like in a river. Cold water—that’s the blue ribbon—starts under the ice at the North and the South Poles. It’s heavier than warm water because it’s cold and has more salt in it.

“Deep down in the ocean, the water is moving like a river.”

“When the cold water sinks down, then warmer water closer to the surface moves in to fill the space where the cold water was. That movement makes a current, like in a river. Deep down in the oceans, the cold water keeps moving too. It creeps really slowly toward the warmer parts of the Earth, like Florida.”

She pauses for a deep breath and glances at Tom. “Then, when the current warms up in those hot places, it gets lighter and travels up closer to the surface. It’s still deep, but not as deep as the cold currents. The warm currents flow back toward the cold North and South Poles.”

“I get it!” Tom says suddenly, tapping his foot a mile a minute. “Deep down in the ocean, the water is moving. The cold water moves to cool down the hot parts of the Earth, and then the warm water moves to heat up the cold parts of the Earth. That keeps some places from getting too hot and other places from getting too cold.”

“And that’s why the water near Aunt Maria’s place in Florida is warmer than here, but not too warm,” I break in.

Julie grins. “That’s right,” she says, pointing at the blue and red ribbons. “The oceans help keep our Earth warm enough to live on, but not too warm. Even way up at the North Pole people can live, although it’s pretty cold up there. And in places like South America or
Africa, lots of people live even where it’s pretty hot—because it’s not too hot. See how important the ocean is!”

She hops up and runs around the room. “Water Woman rules!” she shouts, arms spread wide.

I’ve lived beside the sea all my life. But I didn’t know about the currents deep in the ocean that cool us down. Julie has taught me something new.

“Slow down, Goldilocks,” I say as she runs by. “Are there other ways the oceans help us live on Earth?”

“Oh, yes! Oh, yes! You can’t guess!” She starts to sing. “Salt to fresh, water’s best. Water cycle, it’s our friend, rain and rain, then salt again!”

Tom rolls his eyes. “What is she talking about?” he asks. “It sounds like some kind of goofy poem.”

I laugh and stand up, closing the laptop. “I think I know,” I say. “But it’s almost supper time. Let’s grill up some hot dogs and hamburgers outside. I’ve made some potato salad. Maybe later, Julie will tell us what she’s singing about.”