World's oceans set new surface temperature record, EU monitor says

Temperatures rose to 20.96°C on July 30, data shows

Beachgoers wade in the ocean at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, Florida, in the US. AP
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The world's oceans set a new temperature record this week, raising concerns over the effects on marine life and coastal communities as well as the planet's wider climate.

The temperature of the oceans' surface rose to 20.96°C on July 30, according to EU climate observatory data.

The previous record was 20.95°C in March 2016, a spokeswoman for the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service said.

The samples tested excluded polar regions.

Oceans have absorbed 90 per cent of the excess heat produced by human activity since the dawn of the industrial age, according to scientists.

This excess heat continues to accumulate as greenhouse gases – mainly from burning oil, gas and coal – build up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Globally, the average ocean temperature has been topping seasonal heat records on a regular basis since April.

“The ocean heatwave is an immediate threat to some marine life,” said Piers Forster of the International Centre for Climate at Britain's University of Leeds.

“We are already seeing coral bleaching in Florida as a direct result and I expect more impacts will surface.”

The overheating of the oceans is predicted to have other effects on marine, plant and animal life as well, including on the migration of certain species and the spread of invasive species.

This could threaten fish stocks and thus undermine food security in certain parts of the globe.

Warmer oceans are also less capable of absorbing carbon dioxide, reinforcing the vicious cycle of global warming.

And higher temperatures are likely to come, since the El Nino phenomenon, which tends to warm waters up, has only just begun.

Scientists expect the worst effects of the current El Nino to be felt at the end of 2023 and continue into subsequent years.

“While there are certainly short-term factors, the main long-term cause is without a doubt the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere caused by human activity, primarily by the burning of fossil fuels,” said Rowan Sutton, director of climate research at the University of Reading.

The latest figures follow a string of record highs around the world.

On Monday, temperatures of 38.3°C were recorded off the Florida coast, which could be a world record if confirmed.

Last week, the surface waters of the North Atlantic rose to a record-high average temperature of 24.9°C, according to provisional data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The North Atlantic usually only reaches its peak temperature in September.

Since March, the month when the North Atlantic begins to warm up after winter, temperatures have been higher than in previous years and the gap with past records has continued to widen in recent weeks.

The region has become a key point for observing the heating of the world's oceans.

In July, the Mediterranean Sea broke its daily heat record, with a median temperature of 28.71°C, according to Spain's leading maritime research centre.

Marine heatwaves have become twice as frequent since 1982, according to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

By 2100, they could be 10 times more intense than they were at the beginning of the 20th century if pollutant emissions are not reduced.

The use of coal, oil and gas is expected to be at the centre of debates in the upcoming UN climate talks, Cop28, scheduled to take place at the end of the year in Dubai.

Updated: August 05, 2023, 12:22 AM