Heat waves do not just happen on land. Even the oceans are not spared from the phenomenon and are currently experiencing breaking temperature records.
Scientists reported that off the coast in San Diego, they have found record-breaking seawater temperatures, which is the highest it has been since daily measurements began in 1916.
“Just like we have heat waves on land, we also have heat waves in the ocean,” stated Art Miller of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Increased Heat Wave Cases
The number of “marine heat waves” almost alarmingly doubled between 1982 and 2016. A study published on Aug. 15 affirmed that similar cases are expected to be more prevalent and high as the Earth becomes warmer.
“This trend will only further accelerate with global warming,” said Thomas Frolicher, author of the research. Frolicher is also a climate scientist at the University of Bern in Switzerland.
According to Frolicher’s team, marine heat waves are intense events that happen when the sea-surface temperature goes beyond the 99th percentile of measurements for a certain location.
Oceans notably absorb and release heat slower rate than air. Because of this, heat waves in the ocean last for several days, or even for weeks at times.
“We knew that average temperatures were rising. What we haven’t focused on before is that the rise in the average comes at you in clumps of very hot days — a shock of several days or weeks of very high temperatures,” confirmed Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist.
Dangers Of Marine Heat Waves
Although many sea critters, bat rays, lobsters, and other free-swimming animals can get away with it, heat waves still pose a threat to the ocean because long warm periods can still be very damaging to stationary marine life such as kelp forests and coral reefs.
Notably, around half of the Great Barrier Reef’s shallow water corals died because of the high ocean temperatures in 2016 and 2017. The coral reefs are crucial for the lives of many creatures.
The research has based its findings on a satellite data and records of sea-surface temperatures that were obtained from buoys and ships. However, it did not involve the intense 79.5 degrees Fahrenheit that was measured off Scripps Pier in San Diego.
Miller spotted a school of bat rays off the pier this month. These animals usually gather in warm water. This drove the researcher to speculate that something was already happening.
Furthermore, variations in ocean circulation in warm water surfaces usually result in decreased production of phytoplankton, the important organisms that shape the basis of the food web in the sea.