Coastal Ocean Temperatures Changed Dramatically Over The Past Three Decades, Research Finds

Local changes in coastal ocean temperatures have been much more dramatic over the past 30 years than than global averages imply, new research has found. The research suggests that there are very distinct regional differences — differences which have significant ecological implications.

Image Credit: Coastline via Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Coastline via Wikimedia Commons

The new research was done by mapping and analyzing the differences amongst the world’s coastlines with regards temperature changes over the past three decades. The analysis led to the realization that there is great regional diversity in warming and cooling patterns. “For example, the South American Pacific coasts have been cooling over the last few decades. To some, these cooling trends may be counterintuitive, but they are consistent with global climate change predictions, such as increases in upwelling (i.e., a process that brings cold, deep ocean water to the coast).”

But then over in the North Pacific and North Atlantic, there has been a very clear and obvious warming trend. Including some areas where detected changes in temperature were as high as +/-2.5 degrees Celsius, that’s three times higher than the global average. “Climate change is happening everywhere — just not necessarily at the same rate, or even in the same direction. For example, if you live on Cape Cod, your conditions are warming three times faster than global averages imply, while in Santiago, Chile, coastal waters have been getting cooler.”

“The world is getting flatter,” stated Dr Hannes Baumann of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “Coastal waters at high (cold) latitudes warm much faster than at low (warm) latitudes, hence the majority of the world’s coastal temperature gradients are getting shallower. This could cause dramatic reorganization of organisms and ecosystems, from small plankton communities to larger fish populations.

“We already know, in general, that marine life changes in its characteristics along these North-South temperature gradients,” Baumann continues. “For example, many coastal fish populations differ genetically from north to south, an adaptation to grow best a local temperature conditions. With further study, we want to explore how changes in coastal ocean temperature gradients could predict large-scale changes in the ecosystem.”

The new research is a good reminder of just how much the effects of climate change will vary by region — we’re used to certain weather patterns which could very well completely change with the changing climate. Something to keep in mind.

The new research was just published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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