Oceans’ Heat-Melt: Climate Change-Influenced Water Temps ‘Heading In An Unprecedented Direction’

April 26, 2023

Sunny and still just after the noon hour here in California’s Central Valley — we’re in the low 80s right now and forecast for the 90s tomorrow as the full range of the season starts to become apparent as the summer heatwaves are upon us. There’s not much we can do about it.
Except stay inside an A/C cooled environment.

Despite all the porous news happening right now as I try and type this shit — from the Tucker fallout to T-Rump’s rape trial kicking up this morning to Mickey Mouse dropping a suit bomb on Ron DeSuckface, and lesser news worthies on down the media line — the real story keeps being pushed to the back burner: Climate change and how it’s actually now on location everywhere.

Here in California, all that high-hot temps I mentioned up top is causing some anxiety due to the record-breaking, humongous snowfall the state received early this year and the supercharged melt that’s bound to be the main result of the firey change of season. Rivers, lakes, creeks, and streams, are all set for flooding. Weather types indicate the melt will start about mid-May and continue into August.
Alan Haynes, a hydrologist at the California Nevada River Forecast Center, noted: ‘“The temperatures really matter up where the snow is –— those are also going to be anomalously warm … The thing that really gets the snow melting in earnest is the warm nighttime temperatures — that’s when you can get a lot of flow.”

And the flow comes from a way-quickly warming world. One of the major environmental stories not getting way-enough play is the heating of the oceans, and how rapid the turnaround influence that shit has on melting, not only of our snowfall, but glaciers, icebergs, and ice sheets at the north and south poles.
Since the oceans make up the biggest part of our one-and-only earth, it’s dangerously frightening:

Details from environmental editor/writer Fiona Harvey at the Guardian this morning:

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.

Some scientists fear that the rapid warming could be a sign of the climate crisis progressing at a faster rate than predicted. The oceans have acted as a kind of global buffer to the climate crisis over recent decades, both by absorbing vast amounts of the carbon dioxide that we have poured into the atmosphere, and by storing about 90% of the excess energy and heat this has created, dampening some of the impacts of global heating on land. Some scientists fear we could be reaching the limit of the oceans’ capacity to absorb these excesses.

Meredith said it was still too soon to tell. “The rate [of temperature rise] is stronger than climate models would predict,” he said. “The cause for concern is that if it carries on, this will be well ahead of the climate curve [predicted] for the ocean. But we don’t know yet if that is going to happen.”

The alarm was first raised several weeks ago. Climate scientists warned the Guardian early this month that preliminary data from NOAA showed the average temperature at the ocean’s surface had been at 21.1C since the start of April – beating the previous high of 21C set in 2016.

“The current trajectory looks like it’s headed off the charts, smashing previous records,” Prof Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales, said at that time.

Since then, temperatures have varied slightly from day to day but have shown little sign of abating. For temperatures to continue so far above the average for such a long period at this time of year was “an anomaly”, said Ben Webber, lecturer in climate science at the University of East Anglia.

“What we are seeing is very unusual,” he said. “This is heading in an unprecedented direction, and could be taking us into uncharted territory.”

Simon Good, an expert on ocean observation at the UK’s Met Office, said: “For the last three years the tropical Pacific has been in the opposing phase with a La Niña bringing cooler conditions. With the strong potential for an El Niño event in the mix we can expect sea-surface temperatures to temporarily rise further, with a consequent knock-on effect for global temperature as a whole.”

Mark Maslin, professor of Earth system science at University College London, said the climate crisis was taking hold before our eyes. “Climate scientists were shocked by the extreme weather events in 2021,” he said. “Many hoped this was just an extreme year. But they continued into 2022 and now they are occurring in 2023. It seems we have moved to a warmer climate system with frequent extreme climate events and record-breaking temperatures that are the new normal. It is difficult to see how anyone can deny climate change is happening and having devastating effects around the world.”

Read the study here.
Plus, as an added bit of anti-joy (Carbon Brief yesterday): ‘New research, published in Nature Communications, finds that 41 regions around the world have experienced “statistically implausible” heat since 1959 – accounting for 31% of the planet’s surface. “It appears that such extremes could occur anywhere and at any time,” the paper says.

Finally, some CGI to enhance the real reality:

Listening to the fire-alarm warnings, or not, once again here we are…

(Illustration out front: Salvador Dali’s ‘Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion,’ found here.)

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