Global ocean surface temperatures have reached a new record high, and scientists are sounding the alarm about the possible consequences. According to climate modeling service Copernicus, the daily average global ocean surface temperature (SST) has surpassed the previous record set in 2016, reaching a scorching 20.96C. This event has raised concerns among researchers about the future trajectory of ocean temperatures.
Dr. Samantha Burgess, a researcher at Copernicus, expressed her concern about the situation, stating, “The fact that we’ve already hit a record makes me worry about how much warmer the ocean might get between now and March next year.” This is particularly worrying as ocean temperatures usually peak in March, suggesting that the current record could be broken again.
One of the factors contributing to these unprecedented temperatures is believed by researchers to be El Niño, a climate pattern characterized by changing water temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Coincidentally, 2016, when the previous record was set, was also an El Niño year. However, the impact of burning fossil fuels cannot be ignored. Dr. Burgess explained, “The more we burn fossil fuels, the more excess heat is taken up by the oceans, which means the longer it will take for them to stabilize and return to their original state.”
Unfortunately, recent political actions seem to contradict the urgency of addressing rising ocean temperatures. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to issue more than 100 new licenses for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, contrary to the recommendations of climate experts. This stark contrast emphasizes the need to raise awareness and take action to combat the effects of climate change on our oceans.
The consequences of rising ocean temperatures go beyond mere records and statistics. Oceans play a critical role in regulating Earth’s climate by absorbing heat, influencing weather patterns, being carbon sinks, and emitting cold air that helps moderate Earth’s temperatures. However, as ocean temperatures rise, these vital functions are threatened.
One serious consequence of warming waters is a decrease in their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, leading to an increase in the concentration of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Thus, a vicious circle is created that further exacerbates climate change. The impact of rising ocean temperatures goes beyond the marine ecosystem and affects the entire planet.
Measurements of sea surface temperature for more than 150 years provide valuable insights into climate change. After analyzing this data set, scientists have concluded that over the entire period of record, the global average sea surface temperature has risen by nearly 0.9C. In the last four decades alone, the increase has amounted to about 0.6C.
Some regions, such as the Arctic Ocean, the Baltic and Black Seas, and the extratropical Pacific Ocean, are experiencing the brunt of this warming trend. Marine heat waves have occurred repeatedly in these regions this year, with water temperatures off the coast of Florida reaching an astounding 38°C last week. The effects of these heatwaves are also being felt closer to home, with the UK and Ireland experiencing extreme weather events in early summer.
A 2019 study found that such marine heatwaves are becoming more frequent, with the number of heatwave days tripling in recent years. Just as wildfires devastate large areas of forest, such heatwaves cause significant damage to marine life.
Rising ocean surface temperatures are a wake-up call for the future of the planet. Urgent action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and switch to more sustainable energy sources. As Dr. Burgess aptly put it, “we cannot afford to ignore the consequences of our actions on our oceans and our climate”.