Quantcast

Marine Heatwaves Now Longer, Hotter and More Intense

Climate
Record-setting bloom of toxic algae in North Pacific in 2015. NOAA

It's not just land-based heatwaves that have become more intense and frequent. Marine heatwaves are similarly on the rise as a direct result of warming oceans, according to a new international study.

The research, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, shows that from 1925-2016, the frequency of marine heatwaves increased on average by 34 percent and the length of each heatwave increased by 17 percent. In all, the number of marine heatwave days has increased 54 percent per year.


These bursts of ocean heat can have widespread effects on underwater ecosystems, marine life and coastal communities.

As a press release for the study detailed, a 2011 marine heatwave in Western Australia shifted ecosystems from being dominated by kelp to being dominated by seaweed. That shift remained even after water temperatures returned to normal.

Then in 2012, a marine heatwave in the Gulf of Maine caused an increase in lobsters but resulted in a crash in prices that seriously hurt the industry's profits.

Warm waters in the North Pacific from 2014-2016 led to fishery closures, mass strandings and harmful algal blooms along coastlines. In 2015, the U.S. West Coast's mysterious "blob" of water, up to 4°C warmer than the surrounding Pacific, became tied to unusual weather across the country.

Another intense marine heatwave in 2016 off Tasmania led to disease outbreaks and impacted the region's oyster and salmon industries.

"Our research also found that from 1982 there was a noticeable acceleration of the trend in marine heatwaves," said lead author Dr. Eric Oliver, a researcher at Dalhousie University in Canada.

"While some of us may enjoy the warmer waters when we go swimming, these heatwaves have significant impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity, fisheries, tourism and aquaculture. There are often profound economic consequences that go hand in hand with these events."

The researchers combined satellite data with a century-long range of datasets, taken from ships and various land-based measuring stations, to determine the trend of intensifying marine heatwaves. They eliminated natural warming variables caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation to come to their conclusion.

"There was a clear relationship between the rise in global average sea-surface temperatures and the increase in marine heatwaves, much the same as we see increases in extreme heat events related to the increase in global average temperatures," said co-author and University of New South Wales scientist Dr. Lisa Alexander.

"With more than 90 percent of the heat from human-caused global warming going into our oceans, it is likely marine heatwaves will continue to increase. The next key stage for our research is to quantify exactly how much they may change," she said.

"The results of these projections are likely to have significant implications for how our environment and economies adapt to this changing world."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A tropical storm above Bangkok on Aug. 04, 2016. Hristo Rusev/ NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.

Read More Show Less
orn_france / iStock / Getty Images

By Susan McCabe, BSc, RD

Dioscorea alata is a species of yam commonly referred to as purple yam, ube, violet yam, or water yam.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Left: MirageC / Moment / Getty Images Right: Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sole water is water saturated with pink Himalayan salt.

Read More Show Less
People march to TCF Bank Stadium to protest against the mascot for the Washington Redskins before the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 2, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Thursday banning public schools or universities in the state from using Native American mascots, names or imagery. Mills' action will make Maine the first state in the nation with such a ban once it goes into effect later this year, The Bangor Daily News reported.

Read More Show Less
A man protests against the use of disposable plastics outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28 in London. John Keeble / Getty Images

Plastic pollution across the globe is suffocating our planet and driving Earth toward catastrophic climatic conditions if not curbed significantly and immediately, according to a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 2 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A new climate action plan put forth by Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday is being praised for highlighting the enormous benefits that would result from a rapid shift in the U.S. to a renewable energy economy that centers on the needs of workers and vulnerable communities.

Read More Show Less

Mitshu / E+ / Getty Images

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Veganism is a way of living that tries to minimize animal exploitation and cruelty.

Read More Show Less

6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A federal judge ruled this week that the Food and Drug Administration must begin implementing regulations for the many types of e-cigarettes now on the market in the U.S.

Read More Show Less