‘Unprecedented’ warming indicates climate crisis is taking place before our eyes, experts say
By Fiona Harvey
Apr 26, 2023
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.
The world is thought to be on the brink of an El Niño weather event this year – a cyclical weather system in the Pacific, that has a warming impact globally. But 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.
Prof Mike Meredith of the British Antarctic Survey said: “This has got scientists scratching their heads. The fact that it is warming as much as it has been is a real surprise, and very concerning. It could be a short-lived extreme high, or it could be the start of something much more serious.”
Warming oceans are a concern for many reasons. Seawater takes up more space at higher temperatures, accelerating sea level rise, and warmer water at the poles accelerates the melting of the ice caps. Hotter temperatures can also be dire for marine ecosystems, as it can be difficult or impossible for species to adapt. Corals in particular can suffer devastating bleaching.
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