Ocean surface temp hits record 21C… and there’s more to come

The oceans have hit record-high temperatures with “bath-like” conditions during the current marine heatwave. The average daily global sea surface soared to 20.96C this week, beating the high of 20.95C set in 2016.

However, the 2016 figure was set in March when the seas are meant to be their warmest, not August. Dr Samantha Burgess, from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said: “The fact that we’ve seen the record now makes me nervous about how much warmer the ocean may get between now and next March.”

In Florida, where temperatures should be up to 31C, the sea surface hit 38.44C. Dr Kathryn Lesneski, who is monitoring the Gulf of Mexico for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said: “The water feels like a bath when you jump in.

“There is widespread coral bleaching at shallow reefs in Florida and many corals have already died.”

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The record heat marked the start of an El Nino, which means global ocean temperatures are expected to rise further in the coming months.

This is a naturally occurring climate fluctuation where rising warm water off the west coast of South America causes global temperatures to rise.

Oceans absorb carbon dioxide and produce half of our planet’s oxygen. If they are too hot, they will struggle to do these essential processes.

Carbon dioxide will build up in the atmosphere and the heat will hasten glacier melting, raising sea levels. Rising sea temperatures will also cause coral reefs to expel the algae in their tissues and make them turn white, dubbed “coral bleaching”.

Professor Daniela Schmidt, an earth scientist at Bristol University, said: “People tend to think about trees and grasses dying when we talk about heatwaves.

The Atlantic is five degrees warmer than it should be. That means organisms need 50 percent more food just to function as normal.”

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Such heatwaves can force fish and whales to seek cooler waters, disturbing the food chain. Experts warn that fish stocks could be affected. And sharks can be aggressive as they get confused in hotter temperatures.

The record comes amid a series of air and marine heatwaves across the globe including the UK, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean.

On July 6, the global average surface air temperature reached its highest value of 17.08C but water usually increases at a slower rate.

Marine heatwaves have doubled between 1982 and 2016 and their intensity and length have tripled, a 2019 study found. Scientists in 2020 found climate change has increased them more than 20-fold.

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