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NOAA 2021 hurricanes

A satellite image shows five tropical cyclones churning in the Atlantic basin on September 14, 2020. The storms, from left, are Hurricane Sally over the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Paulette over Bermuda, the remnants of Tropical Storm Rene, and Tropical Storms Teddy and Vicky. (Image: NOAA)

After Passing 'Point of No Return' in 2014, Hot Oceans Are Now 'New Normal'

"Climate change is not a future event," stressed the co-author of a new study. "The reality is that it's been affecting us for a while."

Brett Wilkins

A study published Tuesday revealed that ocean heatwaves fueled by human-caused climate change passed the "point of no return" in 2014 and have become the "new normal."

"These dramatic changes we've recorded in the ocean are yet another piece of evidence that should be a wake-up call to act on climate change."

The study—led by California's Monterey Bay Aquarium and entitled The Recent Normalization of Historical Marine Heat Extremes—was authored by Kisei R. Tanaka and Kyle S. Van Houtan, and published in the journal PLOS Climate. The researchers analyzed marine temperatures over the past 150 years and found that in 2019, "57% of the global ocean surface recorded extreme heat, which was comparatively rare" a century ago. 

Establishing a fixed historical benchmark for extreme marine temperatures, the researchers found that 2014 was the first year in which more than 50% of global ocean temperatures experienced heat extremes. According to the study, this represented the "point of no return," which first occurred in the South Atlantic basin in 1998 and worldwide 16 years later.

"Climate change is not a future event," Van Houtan—who is CEO of Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida—said in a statement. "The reality is that it's been affecting us for a while. Our research shows that for the last seven years more than half of the ocean has experienced extreme heat."

"These dramatic changes we've recorded in the ocean are yet another piece of evidence that should be a wake-up call to act on climate change," he added. "We are experiencing it now, and it is speeding up."

According to Science News

Marine heatwaves are defined as at least five days of unusually high temperatures for a patch of ocean. Heatwaves wreak havoc on ocean ecosystems, leading to seabird starvation, coral bleaching, dying kelp forests, and migration of fish, whales, and turtles in search of cooler waters.

"Much of the public discussion now on climate change is about future events, and whether or not they might happen," Van Houtan told Science News. "Extreme heat became common in our ocean in 2014. It's a documented historical fact, not a future possibility."

"Any discussion of climate change that doesn't begin and end with the ocean probably needs to be reframed."

Van Houtan told Vice that "you cannot overestimate the stabilizing and significant force of the ocean in making our planet habitable."

"It's telling us, right now, that it is out of balance," he continued. "It is extremely hot."

"Any discussion of climate change that doesn't begin and end with the ocean probably needs to be reframed," Van Houtan added. "It's 97% of the water on our planet. It generates the primary source of protein for two to three billion people every day. It provides medicine and good, stable jobs. It is the beating heart of our climate system, and it needs to be at the forefront of any climate discussion."

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