Extreme Temperature Diary-March 6th, 2019/ Ocean Heat Waves

Wednesday March 6th… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing post will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

Ocean Heat Waves

All of us know what a heat wave is. Certainly with time the public has become more aware of increasingly hotter, deadly heatwaves that have been popping up around the planet due to carbon pollution. The latest were in Australia during their hottest summer on record. This week I and many other climatologists became aware of a new phenomenon that is very much related to heat waves on land…ocean heatwaves. Today I am informing my readers on ocean heatwaves, which occur not only at the ocean’s surface but in the depths of the seas as well. Let’s refer to a recently published National Geographic article:


Ocean heat waves are killing underwater life, threatening biodiversity

The ocean feels heat waves just like the ones on land, and underwater life is struggling to survive them.

3 Minute ReadBy Sarah Gibbens

PUBLISHED March 4, 2019

Intense heat waves are bad for human health. They can lead to sometimes deadly conditions like dehydration and stroke. And just like extreme temperatures on land, marine heat waves can drastically alter life under the sea.

A new study published today in Nature Climate Change found that the occurrences of marine heat waves have substantially grown in the past three decades, and it’s becoming clearer how deadly warmer temperatures are for biodiversity.

Marine heat waves are periods when the average water temperature of a given region is exceptionally high. In the past 30 years marine heat wave days have increased by just over 54 percent, a trend the study’s authors found consistent with declines in oceans life.

High-profile marine heat waves like “the blob,” a huge mass of warm water that was present off the U.S. West Coast from 2014-2016, were included in the study. The blob was responsible for massive die-offs of everything from invertebrates to marine mammals.

“It is clear that extreme warming events can drive abrupt changes in entire ecosystems with widespread consequences,” says study author ecologist Daniel Smale.

To get a global snapshot of how marine heat waves are changing life in the world’s oceans, Smale and his research team looked at 116 previously published papers. It gave them data from over 1,000 different ecological records. Heat waves were quantified as any period longer than five days when the ocean warmed to abnormally high temperatures.

They then used existing datasets to quantify the amount of biodiversity in a given region. Particularly worrying to the scientists were regions with dense biodiversity that experienced warming. Those regions were especially at risk of life being damaged or dying off and having cascading effects on neighboring ecosystems.

Three regions were particularly hard hit by warming waters, the study notes: coral reefs in the Caribbean, seagrass in Australia, and kelp forests off the coast of California.

Warming disrupts the typical functions of such massive ecological habitats. Corals, for instance, become stressed when subjected to warmer-than-average temperatures. They then expel their symbiotic algae and undergo a process called coral bleaching where the normally colorful coral becomes sickly and turns a stark white.

The big picture

In 2005, the U.S. lost half of its Caribbean corals. On the Great Barrier Reef, more than half of the region’s corals are already dead. When corals die, they can no longer support the hundreds of fish and other marine species that live on the reefs.

“Coral reefs that evolved with just a few weeks of above-average temperatures every decade or so are now suffering up to three months of extreme temperature every few years,” says ecologist Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer who was not involved with the study.

“For example, tropical storms will create even more destruction because coral reefs won’t be able to continue growing and protecting the shores from waves,” he says.

Shrinking biodiversity may also one day have profound impacts on food security and sea-based economies. Last week, a study published in the journal Science found that climate change is causing fish to disappear. Global populations of fish taken for human consumption by fisheries have decreased by around 4 percent. For some regions that experience warming waters as well as overfishing, the decline is more than 30 percent.

Smale also worries that the loss of critical regions like coral reefs, seagrass beds, and kelp forests will only add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Scientists estimate the ocean has absorbed 26 percent of the carbon released into the atmosphere in the past decade. All of the carbon that was absorbed by underwater flora is released when the ecosystem dies.

What can be done?

“Ocean systems are facing a number of threats, such as plastic pollution and ocean acidification,” says Smale. “But it is clear that extreme warming events can drive abrupt changes in entire ecosystems with widespread consequences.”

He predicts that warming events will continue to threaten the balance of ocean life in the coming decades.

“The ultimate cause is something we have to address,” says Katie Matthews, the deputy chief scientist at Oceana. “If we don’t do that, everything else we work on will have little to no impact.”

She adds that climate-conscious fishery management and monitoring ocean warming in real time are tools that can help minimize impacts from warming events in the meantime.

Well, there you have it. This blog is all about extreme temperatures, so I will be expanding reporting to the seas also. Here is a quick check of sea surface temperature anomalies as of 3/4/2019:

The warmer than average orange and red colors far outweigh the blue below average shades. This is particularly true with our blossoming El Nino off the west coast of South America.

In a nutshell, if the oceans die all life on land including homo sapiens are in deep trouble since oxygen would not be replenished both in the seas and in the atmosphere. At the rate the biosphere is changing most people won’t be directly affected or harmed by dying oceans for several decades if not centuries, but inevitably via a broken food chain and decreased oxygen all will if we as the dominant species on the planet cannot reign in carbon and methane pollution.


Here is some more climate and weather news from Wednesday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article.)

Here is an ET from January. Yes the Midwest had a cold, snowy winter this year:

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The Climate Guy

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