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The global oceans experience two unprecedented months: “It is extraordinarily unusual”

Surface temperatures registered their highest level ever reported despite the fact that the El Niño phenomenon has not yet shown its full effects in 2023.

Surface temperatures registered their highest level ever reported despite the fact that the El Niño phenomenon has not yet shown its full effects in 2023.

An “extraordinarily unusual” situation is taking place in the oceans for which experts do not know the origin. During the first days of March, from the 1st to the 5th, the global oceans recorded their highest temperature since satellite data is available. Since then, it has maintained unprecedented levels for this time of the year. “We still don’t know why it is happening,” says Raquel Somavilla, a researcher at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO-CSIC), in statements collected by ABC.

Everything lies in El Niño, one of the two meteorological cycles that are part of the El Niño Phenomenon. This cycle is characterized by warm temperatures that cause the surface of the tropical Pacific Ocean to warm more than usual. When this happens, low pressures occur in the atmosphere, which translates into abundant precipitation on the western coasts of America.

Well, this phenomenon, according to experts, has not yet shown its full effects in 2023. However, the ocean has reached its highest-ever temperature ever reported since records have been kept. What awaits us then? “The El Niño event has not yet developed, so there is no explanation for such a pronounced increase in the surface temperature of the sea,” explains Somavilla.

After this event, the scientific community is beginning to wonder about the role that climate change plays in the depths of the ocean, and if it is possible that this event is beginning to show the impacts of global warming. “What is worrying is that the entire ocean is warming because it absorbs more than 90% of the heat caused by greenhouse gas emissions. And not just the surface, but warming has already been detected at very deep depths”, Anna Cabré, a climate physicist and oceanographer, told the aforementioned outlet.

The warmest years ever recorded

The oceans act as regulators of the planet's temperature. They store energy and buffer global heat. According to Cabré, the phenomenon could be even more serious, since humans notice less warming on the surface thanks to the fact that the ocean retains much of the planet's heat. “This makes us not fully perceive the seriousness of the problem,” says the expert.

Experts also believe that the increase in temperatures is occurring at a “faster” rate than experts could have anticipated, according to Somavilla. “What we are observing now is what appears to be a rapid acceleration of the increase in sea surface temperature, which is clearly an anomaly, something for which there are no records,” explained Isabel Iglesias, oceanographer at the Interdisciplinary Center for Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR) of Portugal.

In historical terms, the ocean temperature is now 0.9ºC above pre-industrial levels. Of these, 0.6ºC have occurred in the last 40 years. According to the aforementioned outlet, these years 2023 and 2024 could be the warmest ever recorded, a trend that will continue until greenhouse gases are reduced and a new equilibrium is reached.


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