Ocean heat waves are becoming more common and lasting longer

The Washington Post reports:

Heat waves over the world’s oceans are becoming longer and more frequent, damaging coral reefs and creating chaos for aquatic species. A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found a 54 percent increase in the number of days in which heat waves have cooked the oceans since 1925.

The rise in these marine heat waves has occurred while ever more heat is stored in the ocean because of accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The ocean heat content in 2017 was the highest in recorded history, noted Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Trenberth said in an email that ocean heat waves will necessarily increase given the building stockpile of heat, which has been measured from the surface down to more than a mile deep (2,000 meters).

Tuesday’s Nature study concurred that “we can expect further increases in marine heatwave days under continued global warming.”

The detection of a rise in heat waves over the ocean is unsurprising because they’ve already been documented over land thanks to global warming. Many studies have examined the potential consequences of increasing land heat waves including an uptick in heat-related illnesses and deaths, in the absence of adaptation. Extreme heat can also worsen air quality, stress infrastructure and decrease the productivity of outdoor workers, among other effects.

But far less attention has been paid to heat waves over the ocean, which can have consequences of their own for both the marine environment and people. [Continue reading…]

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