The ocean heat record has been smashed, with dire consequences for the globe.
The oceans have reached their highest ever recorded temperature as they absorb heat from climate change, with catastrophic consequences for our planet’s health.
According to the EU’s climate change program Copernicus, the average daily worldwide sea surface temperature broke a 2016 record this week.
It reached 20.96 degrees Celsius (69.73 degrees Fahrenheit), which is significantly above the average for this time of year.
The oceans play an important role in climate regulation. They absorb heat, create half of Earth’s oxygen, and influence weather patterns.
Warmer oceans absorb less carbon dioxide, so more of the planet-warming gas remains in the atmosphere. It can also hasten the melting of glaciers that flow into the ocean, contributing to further sea-level rise.
Hotter oceans and heatwaves cause marine creatures such as fish and whales to migrate in search of cooler waters, disrupting the food chain. Experts worry that fish stocks may be harmed.
Some predatory species, such as sharks, might grow violent when exposed to higher temperatures.
“The water feels like a bath when you jump in,” says Dr. Kathryn Lesneski, who is monitoring a marine heatwave in the Gulf of Mexico for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “There is widespread coral bleaching at Florida’s shallow reefs, and many corals have already died.”
“We are putting oceans under more stress than at any point in history,” says Dr. Matt Frost of the Plymouth Marine Lab in the United Kingdom, alluding to pollution and overfishing.
The timing of this broken record has scientists concerned.
According to Dr. Samantha Burgess of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the warmest month for the seas should be March, not August.
“The fact that we’ve now seen the record makes me nervous about how much warmer the ocean may get between now and next March,” she says.
“It’s sobering to see this change happening so quickly,” says Prof Mike Burrows, who works with the Scottish Association for Marine Science to monitor affects on Scottish seashores.
The Earth is in unknown territory as climatic records crumble.
A straightforward guide on climate change.
Scientists are examining why the oceans are so hot right now, but they believe climate change is to blame because the seas absorb the majority of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions.
“The more we burn fossil fuels, the more excess heat will be taken out by the oceans, which means it will take longer to stabilize them and get them back to where they were,” Dr Burgess explains.
The new average temperature record surpasses one established in 2016, when the naturally occurring climate fluctuation El Nio was in full force.
El Nio occurs when warm water comes to the surface off South America’s west coast, raising global temperatures.
Another El Nio has begun, but scientists say it is still weak, implying that ocean temperatures will rise above average in the following months.