ocean temperatures rising


Scientists are raising alarm over the rapid heating of the world’s oceans, fearing that it will exacerbate global warming.

This month, global sea surface temperatures reached a new record high, rising at an unprecedented rate. The exact cause of this phenomenon is not yet fully understood, but scientists worry that, in combination with other weather events, it could push global temperatures to worrisome levels by the end of next year. Additionally, experts predict the onset of a strong El Niño weather event, known for heating the ocean, in the coming months.

The consequences of warmer oceans are far-reaching. Marine life is threatened, extreme weather events are more likely to occur, and sea levels continue to rise. Furthermore, warmer waters are less effective at absorbing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

A recent study published with little fanfare underscores a troubling development. Over the past 15 years, the Earth has accumulated nearly as much heat as it did in the preceding 45 years, with the majority of the excess energy being absorbed by the oceans. The real-world impact is evident. In April of this year, ocean temperatures reached a new record, and in certain regions, the deviation from long-term averages was staggering. For instance, sea surface temperatures off the east coast of North America in March were up to 13.8 degrees Celsius higher than the 1981-2011 average.

“It’s not yet well established, why such a rapid change, and such a huge change is happening,” said Karina Von Schuckmann, the lead author of the new study and an oceanographer at the research group Mercator Ocean International.

“We have doubled the heat in the climate system the last 15 years, I don’t want to say this is climate change, or natural variability or a mixture of both, we don’t know yet. But we do see this change.”

Karina Von Schuckmann, the lead author of the study and an oceanographer at Mercator Ocean International, acknowledges the lack of a clear explanation for this rapid and substantial change. She states that while the cause remains uncertain, the change is undeniable. One potential factor influencing the increased heat absorption by the oceans is a reduction in pollution from shipping. Regulations implemented by the International Maritime Organization in 2020 to reduce sulfur content in ship fuel have led to a decrease in aerosol particles released into the atmosphere. However, these aerosols also reflect heat back into space, and their reduction may have contributed to more heat being absorbed by the waters.

Compared to preindustrial levels, the average surface temperature of the world’s seas has risen by approximately 0.9 degrees Celsius, with 0.6 degrees Celsius occurring in the past 40 years alone. Although seemingly small, this increase has significant real-world implications. Marine heatwaves are more frequent and intense, leading to mass mortality of marine life, particularly devastating for coral reefs. The warming of the upper ocean surface provides additional energy for hurricanes and cyclones, making them more intense and longer-lasting. Warmer waters also expand, contributing to sea-level rise and the acceleration of glacier melting in Greenland and Antarctica. Furthermore, the ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 decreases as temperatures rise, potentially leading to increased atmospheric CO2 levels and further warming of the air and oceans.

Another concern for scientists is the El Niño Southern Oscillation, a weather phenomenon that fluctuates between the warmer El Niño phase and the cooler La Niña phase. In the past three years, the world has experienced a La Niña phase, which helped keep global temperatures in check. However, researchers now anticipate a strong El Niño phase, which could have significant implications. El Niño is expected to disrupt weather patterns worldwide, weaken monsoons, and increase the risk of wildfires in Australia.

“The Australian Bureau’s model does go strongly for a strong El Niño. And it has been trending that way and all the climate models have been trending that way to a stronger event,” said Hugh McDowell from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

“If a new El Niño new comes on top of it, we will probably have additional global warming of 0.2-0.25C,” said Dr Josef Ludescher, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research.

“The impact on the temperature is relaxed a few months after the peak of any El Niño so this is why 2024 will be probably the warmest on record.”

“And we may, we will be close to 1.5C days and perhaps we will temporarily go over.”

Scientists worry that as more heat accumulates in the ocean, its ability to store excess energy may diminish. There are also concerns that the heat absorbed by the oceans will not remain there indefinitely. Some research suggests that global warming occurs in sudden leaps, with periods of minimal change followed by rapid upward shifts, closely associated with the development of El Niño.

While the situation is cause for concern, Karina Von Schuckmann offers a glimmer of hope. She suggests that temperatures may decrease again after the El Niño subs

“We still have a window where we can act and we should use this to reduce the consequences,” she said.



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