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article imageWarmest oceans on record Could Set Off a Year of Extreme Weather

By Karen Graham     Apr 18, 2020 in Environment
The world’s seas are simmering, with record high temperatures spurring worry among forecasters that the global warming effect may generate a chaotic year of extreme weather ahead.
Our planet has already experienced its hottest January and second-steamiest February in recorded history, while March 2020 was almost 2 degrees Centigrade warmer than the average between 1981 and 2010.
What is worrisome is the ocean surface temperatures around the world. Parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans all hit the record books for warmth last month, according to NOAA's U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information.
Parts of the tropical Atlantic Ocean, central Indian Ocean, and parts of the northern and southwestern Pacific Ocean had temperatures that were 1.5°C (2.7°F) above average or higher. This could have far-reaching implications looking ahead.
Global Land and ocean temperatures - March 2020 anomalies.
Global Land and ocean temperatures - March 2020 anomalies.
NOAA - U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information
Phil Klotzbach at Colorado State University notes that in the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore drilling accounts for about 17 percent of U.S. oil output, water temperatures were 76.3 degrees Fahrenheit (24.6 Celsius), or 1.7 degrees above the long-term average.
If the Gulf's waters stay warm, they would add fuel to the intensity of any storms that come that way. “The entire tropical ocean is above average,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. “And there is a global warming component to that. It is really amazing when you look at all the tropical oceans and see how warm they are.”
Earth s North Pole
Earth's North Pole
NASA
The Gulf of Mexico's record warmth spilled over to the shoreline, bringing record land temperatures, with Florida recording its warmest March on record. On Wednesday, this week, Miami, Florida reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit, a record in itself that was 10 degrees above normal.
A one-two punch for ocean temperatures
Interestingly, the above-normal global temperatures we are seeing this year can also be tied to intense climate systems circling the Arctic region that bottled up much of the region's cold air - preventing it from spilling into the more temperate regions to the south.
If you add in global warming, this was the one-two punch that brought our ocean temperatures to an historic high, according to Bloomberg.
Sled dogs wade through water on melting sea ice during an expedition in North Western Greenland  as ...
Sled dogs wade through water on melting sea ice during an expedition in North Western Greenland, as shown in this June 13, 2019 image by Steffen Olsen of the Centre for Ocean and Ice at the Danish Meteoroligical Institute
Steffen Olsen, Centre for Ocean and Ice at the Danish Meteoroligical Institute/AFP
Let's talk about El Nino. El Nino is a cyclical climate phenomenon, usually occurring in the winter in the Southern Hemisphere, where ocean currents become warmer. And that is what El Nino does. It warms the central to the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, sometimes reaching an area greater than the size of the United States.
This event takes place on average every two to seven years and is a complex mix of sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions. Sea-surface temperatures are monitored regularly by meteorologists, with particular attention focused on a region in the Eastern Pacific known as Nino 3.4. This region's water surface temperatures are critical to an event being called El Nino.
: Late March 2020 SST anomaly pattern across the Atlantic Ocean.
: Late March 2020 SST anomaly pattern across the Atlantic Ocean.
Colorado State University
This year, the chance of an El Nino developing is small, and scientists are theorizing that this may be due to global warming's impact on sea surface temperatures. El Nino “depends on contrasts, as well as absolute values of sea-surface temperatures,” according to Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Should sea surface temperatures over the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico remain warmer than usual, we could see stronger and more frequent tropical cyclones when the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season begins on June 1.
The NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information chief Deke Arndt sums it up, according to NY Daily News: “Long-term warming is a lot like riding on an escalator — the longer you stay on the escalator, the higher you go. El Niño is like standing tall and crouching down as you’re riding up that escalator.”
More about March 2020, ocean temperatures, NOAA, Climate change, El Nino
 
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