Sunset in the calm water of the North Atlantic off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada in late September 2017.
Source – Handydannydan, CC SA 4.0.
In the past few weeks, sea-surface temperatures in some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean have soared to record heights.
On Wednesday, June 14, the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean reached an average temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit. While this increase may not sound too bad, it’s a record high, and it will have global consequences.
The average for this time of year, over the past three decades, is 71 degrees Fahrenheit. That two-degree difference reflects a gargantuan amount of extra energy stored in the ocean. The Atlantic has been riding a wave of extreme heat since last year. And as summer sets in, the temperature will climb.
The warming covers a wide swath of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching almost one-third of the way across the Atlantic westward from the northwestern coast of Africa.
Brian McNoldy, a meteorologist at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida says that satellite data shows that some surface waters in the area are almost 4 degrees Celsius (about 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal for this time of the year, reports Science News.
“There’s been record-breaking warmth since March, but even more so now,” he says.
“This is an incredibly unusual year,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a climate scientist at Princeton University. “A warm Atlantic tends to have a lot of global influences.”
Some global consequences
Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures affect rainfall and storms in Brazil, India, the Sahel region of Africa, and the southwestern United States. The higher temperatures also help to strengthen storms that form in the eastern Atlantic and eventually spawn hurricanes, scientists say.
Interestingly, scientists are wondering if a shift in the desert dust from sands coming from the Sahara, a semi-permanent high-pressure system dubbed the “Azores high,” may be one cause of the rising ocean temperatures.
The Azores high has weakened and shifted southwest away from Africa. So those winds that typically pick up and transport Saharan dust westward over the North Atlantic are calmer and largely dust-free, says Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.
So what are scientists referring to, here? Usually, the Azores high helps in blocking some solar radiation, scattering the dust particles back into space – and helping to keep the ocean from getting overheated.
And of course, we can’t dismiss the El Nino weather pattern, whose hallmark is warmer-than-normal sea-surface temperatures along the equator west of South America.
By winter, there’s a more than 4 in 5 chance that El Niño will be either strong or moderate, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
Whether air pollution and windblown sand have anything to do with the oceans’ rapid warming, it is occurring after years of gradual and accelerating heating, the Washington Post is reporting, and just at the onset of the El Niño pattern, which is known to supercharge global warming and extreme weather.
North Atlantic Ocean temperatures climbing to historic highs
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