Ocean Temperatures heading off the scale

Usually, graphs of data like Ocean temperatures are very predictable. They follow a similar pattern most years but due to climate change, the temperatures have been increasing gradually since the industrial revolution. This month though something very unusual has happened which has got climate scientists very worried. Look how the temperature today is way higher than the usual trend. 

“The current trajectory looks like it’s headed off the charts, smashing previous records,” said Prof Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales.

John Grant,  from Hallam University, who has been studying climate change throughout his career, commented “When it comes to describing data regarding the warming of systems such as the Arctic, Antarctic or ocean temperatures I get fed up with saying “the latest data is unprecedented, but I am at a loss for other words (what else am I to say?). We are in uncharted territory regards the speed of change (heating/melting). We are now recording a significant number of tipping points around the world. The awful truth is that this will be looked back at as the coolest we recorded before the great warming of the latter part of the 2020s and the 2030s.

Fiona Harvey explained in the Guardian “Temperatures in the world’s oceans have broken fresh records, testing new highs for more than a month in an “unprecedented” run that has led to scientists stating the Earth has reached “uncharted territory” in the climate crisis.

The rapid acceleration of ocean temperatures in the last month is an anomaly that scientists have yet to explain. Data collated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), known as the Optimum Interpolation Sea Surface Temperature (OISST) series, gathered by satellites and buoys, has shown temperatures higher than in any previous year, in a series stretching back to 1981, continuously over the past 42 days.”

Why is this a problem?  

The warming of the ocean is already causing disasters. It provides more energy for tropical cyclones which are becoming stronger and faster. 

More water evaporates from warmer oceans, which increases global rainfall. You might think more rainfall would be good for agriculture, but not in this case. It adds to extremely heavy rainfall which causes flooding, extreme danger and washes soil away. 

Warmer water at the poles speeds up the melting of the ice caps. We have enough ice on earth to raise sea levels by 65 metres, which is more than the height of Sheffield’s Town Hall. 

Water expands as it heats. You don’t need a degree to work out that this is a major threat to all the coastal communities around the world and especially small island states. The oceans are thousands of metres deep, so a small percentage increase in expansion can cause a few metres of sea level rise. 

Hotter temperatures can be fatal for marine ecosystems, as it can be difficult or impossible for species to adapt. Corals in particular can suffer devastating bleaching. A 2020 study by a team of Australian researchers found that the coral cover of the Great Barrier Reef has declined by half since 1995. American scientists in 2020 found that the majority of Caribbean Reefs have been transformed into habitats dominated by algae and sponges. It is estimated that if reefs collapse they could take with them millions of species. 

Rapid ocean warming shows the climate crisis is developing faster than predicted. The oceans have acted as a buffer to the climate crisis over recent decades, both by absorbing about a quarter of the carbon dioxide that we have poured into the atmosphere, and by storing about 90% of the excess energy and heat this has created, dampening some of the impacts of global heating on land. I fear we could be reaching the limit of the ocean’s capacity to absorb these excesses, which is why the graph has taken such a different trend. 

Warmer water does not hold carbon dioxide so well, so the oceans are now less effective as a carbon sink. 

The data is driven mostly by satellite observations but also verified with measurements from ships and buoys. The data does not include the polar regions.

Baroness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle, retweeted the Guardian article saying  “The El Niño system is yet to develop, so this oscillation cannot explain the recent rapid heating, at a time of year when ocean temperatures are normally declining from their annual March and April peaks”

It is scandalous that the media have ignored this major and sudden change to the temperature of the world’s oceans. Of the mainstream papers only the Guardian has reported it and I don’t think it has made the news on any of our TV channels. Unless the public is informed about the damage fossil fuels are doing to our planet Governments will never take the emergency action that is necessary to prevent the collapse of our climate and our civilisation. 

What can we do about it? Use your vote in the local elections to elect politicians that are serious about tackling the climate emergency. Join a group to urge the Government to take emergency action. Write to the media demanding more coverage of the climate emergency.  

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