As Hurricane Matthew impacts the East Coast of the US this week, it is important to consider how rising ocean temperatures are contributing to the intensification of storms worldwide.
Earlier this year, a scientific study titled “Industrial-era global ocean heat uptake doubles in recent decades” was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study showed that half of the total global ocean heating increase that has happened since 1865 has occurred in just the last 20 years.
Given that oceans absorb more than 90 percent of Earth’s excess heat generated by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), the fact that the oceans are warming at a non-linear pace is, while not surprising, extraordinarily troubling.
This ongoing trend is showing no signs of changing for the better.
This July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) monthly global analysis report showed that the worldwide ocean surface temperature for that month was .79 degrees Celsius (1.42 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century average, which, according to NOAA, was “the highest global ocean temperature for July in the 137-year record.” The previous record had been set just the year before. Moreover, this July was the 40th consecutive July that saw global ocean temperatures above the 20th century average. NOAA reported, “The 13 highest monthly global ocean temperature departures have all occurred in the past 13 months.” July saw record-high sea surface temperatures across portions of the western, southwestern, central and southeastern Pacific, the southern and western Atlantic, and the northeastern Indian Ocean, according to NOAA.
In August, which is at the time of this writing the most current month of NOAA’s global analysis report, oceanic surface temperatures were nearly as high as July’s, and were the second highest August temperatures on record — only .04 degrees Fahrenheit less than 2015’s record. As in July, large areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans’ all saw record warm temperatures persisting.
In 2014, US government climate scientists stated that the warming of oceans due to ACD was unstoppable. At that time scientists warned that the impacts of the warming ocean temperatures would be felt for centuries to come, even if there were immediate and dramatic efforts to cut CO2 emissions globally.
Needless to say, nothing like those types of cuts have occurred. Emissions have continued to slowly increase or stay at roughly the same levels that have caused the crisis we are in, and dramatic impacts from rising oceanic water temperatures are on the rise.
Record-Breaking Storms and Rainfall
Warmer-than-normal tropical waters are one of the key factors in the formation of Hurricane Matthew, which is now easily one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in the last decade. At the time of this writing, the massive storm had lashed Haiti with 145 mph winds, driving rains and claimed at least 17 lives.
Current models show the hurricane on track to scour much of the eastern seaboard of the US, with the storm still being a Category 3 hurricane by the time it reaches Florida on Friday.
Across the Pacific, Typhoon Megi, the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, became the third tropical cyclone of the season to pummel Taiwan, knocking out power to 3 million people across the country while dumping an incredible three feet of rain over parts of the island.
Meanwhile, major flooding events in the US have been coming in quick succession. August saw record floods across much of Louisiana, in what became the worst flooding since Hurricane Sandy, according to the Red Cross. That is only one example of many, as at least 18 major flooding events have struck Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas since March 2015, according to The Weather Chanel.
Marine Life Impacted
The impacts of warming ocean waters on marine life are far too numerous and vast to detail here. However, some broad-brushstrokes include, according to a National Environmental Education Foundation report from earlier this year:
- More than 80 percent of Earth’s marine life is migrating to different places and changing their breeding and feeding patterns due to warming waters.
- Ocean species are migrating in response to climate change 10-times faster than land species.
- Some marine species have migrated as much as 600 miles from where they were abundant just a few decades ago.
Warming waters cause certain nutrients to be more or less available, which causes redistributions of global marine species, which then opens the migrating species to new diseases, new predators and other issues.
A recent example of this is evident in a study, released in September, that showed that baby lobsters are struggling to survive when they are reared in water 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the temperatures that are currently typical of the western Gulf of Maine. “The UN’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)] expects the Gulf of Maine’s temperature to warm by [5 degrees Fahrenheit] by the year 2100,” Truthout recently reported. “Keep in mind, too, that thus far, the IPCC’s temperature predictions have consistently been too low.”
The entire food web of the oceans is being disrupted, and many global fisheries are undergoing dramatic, deleterious changes.
As we watch the weather worsen, we must not forget the links between weather and climate — and how warming oceans affect us all.
Don’t miss your chance to give for #GivingTuesday!
Millions of people are supporting nonprofits like Truthout for #GivingTuesday. Will you join them?
As an independent newsroom, Truthout relies on reader donations to remain online. Your tax-deductible donation of any amount — even a few bucks! — helps make it possible for us to publish award-winning journalism that amplifies the voices of changemakers everywhere.