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Ocean temps reach record high, fossil fuels to blame

Ocean temps reach record high, fossil fuels to blame
Posted at 4:02 PM, Apr 11, 2023

The sea surface temperature reached the highest temperature in nearly 40 years of daily monitoring last week. It was measured at 21.1 degrees Celsius, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. 

The temperatures peaked as a La Niña pattern subsides, which generally cools sea surface temperatures. 

The rise in sea surface temperatures can be directly attributed to higher levels of greenhouse gas, said NOAA senior scientist Michael McPhaden. Greenhouse gases come from the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline for cars or coal for electricity. 

"The fact is we have the data and we have the physical understanding of how the climate system works, that this correlation, that this connection between rising greenhouse gases and rising global temperatures is real," McPhaden said. 

NOAA's data indicate that La Niña patterns now bring warmer sea surface temperatures than El Niño patterns of the 1980s. 

SEE MORE: The US Southeast and Gulf Coasts see record sea level rise

McPhaden said El Niño patterns typically occur once every 3-7 years, and it has been about five years since Earth's last El Niño. Whenever the next El Niño arrives, he expects additional records could be broken. 

"The planet is primed for more records," McPhaden said. "And, you know, if we get a big El Niño growth, we're going to be off the charts again in terms of global mean surface temperatures."

McPhaden noted a United Nations report issued last month indicating that humans are losing progress in the fight against climate change, and urged nations to reduce carbon emissions. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called efforts over the last five years to reduce emissions "insufficient." The tone of the report was dour, suggesting that mankind needs to adapt to climate change. 

The report called for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

"The concern is that we're gonna see more severe storms, we're gonna see more extreme droughts, we're gonna see more extreme flooding, we're gonna see more extreme heat waves on land and marine heat waves in the ocean," McPhaden said. "And, you know, collectively, this is going to be very damaging to our way of life and our ecosystems that sustain us."