Warmer Oceans Will Bring Environmental Change
Scientists Study Worldwide Increase in Water Temps
by Cecilia Gonzales, age 15
Steve Kramer spent an hour and a half swimming in the ocean off the coast of Maine last August. It was the longest he has ever been in Maine’s coastal waters. In past years it was too cold to do more than jump quickly in and out.
Last summer brought the average temperatures in the world’s oceans to their highest levels in 130 years. For the past few years average ocean temperatures have hovered around 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Records are being set in many areas. For example, water temperatures off the coast of Maryland reached 88 degrees Fahrenheit. This is more like what is expected in Miami, Florida.
This dramatic increase in temperature is very unusual for the oceans. Some scientists say it is the result of a powerful El Niño pattern that started in 1998 when cold temperatures rose from the equatorial Pacific. Some cite increased man–made global warming and the effect of random weather variations as possible factors. Other meteorologists say it is a combination of these forces.
Warmer ocean temperatures are affecting the organisms that live in the oceans. Increasing ocean temperatures are threatening coral reefs and melting the Arctic Sea ice. It is also possible that warmer water is creating stronger hurricanes. In the Gulf of Mexico warmer water correlates with a greater number of hurricanes. Water temperature in the Gulf now averages around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most of the bodies of water in the Northern Hemisphere are currently warmer than their historical average. In the Mediterranean Sea, the temperature is about three degrees warmer than usual. In the Arctic Ocean, where increased heat is most noticeable, the water temperature is as much as 10 degrees higher than normal.
Increasing ocean temperatures affect more than just marine organisms. Scientists say the ripple effect will eventually touch all of us. Understanding the warming process and what changes might result is now a major focus of scientific research.
[Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]