Unstoppable rise in sea surface temperatures and continued record breaking is “extremely abnormal” | WIRED.jp Latest


Over the past year, abnormally high temperatures have been reported one after another in oceans around the world. The world’s sea surface temperatures reached a record high in March 2023, and ever since then, records have continued to be broken every single day.

The orange line in the graph below shows sea surface temperature trends in 2023, and the other gray lines show trends in sea surface temperatures in previous years. The solid black line, which far exceeds even the 23-year record, shows the movement up to mid-February 2024. Although there is still a long way to go before the typical hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean, which lasts from early June to autumn, it is important to remember that the formation of tropical cyclones such as hurricanes and cyclones is caused by rising ocean temperatures. And these abnormally high temperatures are likely to continue for months to come. In any case, there is no doubt that these abnormal sea surface temperatures are already causing serious problems for the Earth’s ecosystem.

Courtesy of University of Maine

“In the tropical eastern Atlantic Ocean, water temperatures are rising four months faster than normal, and we’re already seeing June-level temperatures,” says Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. . “It’s extremely unusual for a record to be broken so drastically and for such a long period of time to be broken.”

These graphs and maps show that the average difference in seawater temperature is 1 to 2 degrees Celsius. It may not seem like much of a difference, but for the ocean, this difference is huge. Unlike land, which experiences rapid changes in temperature from day to night, it takes a considerable amount of time to warm the entire ocean, which can be thousands of feet deep. In other words, a difference of less than 1°C has great significance. “We’ve seen water temperatures increase by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius in several ocean areas, which is extremely unusual,” McNoldy said.

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Courtesy of University of Maine

What on earth is happening? One thing is certain: the oceans have been warming slowly over the past few decades. The world’s oceans absorb about 90% of the excess heat humans release into the atmosphere. “For humans, the ocean is like a savior,” says Francisco Chavez, a biological oceanographer at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). “From a climate perspective, the situation is even more serious because these warming temperatures are not just at the surface, but also in the deep ocean.”

One of the major concerns associated with rising sea surface temperatures is the issue of ecosystem conservation. Floating near the sea surface are phytoplankton, which reproduce by capturing energy from the sun, and small zooplankton, which feed on them. The effects of extreme water temperatures on these creatures could threaten to undermine the foundations of the ocean’s food web.

Serious impact on the ecosystem

But there is another problem going on, more subtle. When the sea surface temperature rises, a layer of warm water forms like a lid, making it impossible for nutrients contained in the colder water below to rise up. These nutrients are essential for the growth of phytoplankton, which helps reduce climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. If this kind of stratification caused by global warming progresses further, “we won’t see the large phytoplankton blooms known as ‘spring blooms,'” says Dennis Hansell, an oceanographer and biogeochemist at the University of Miami. says. “If we don’t take steps to replenish the ocean surface with nutrients and support phytoplankton growth, spring blooms will become increasingly rare.”

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