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Gulf of Mexico experiences heatwave as ocean scientists prepare for mass

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Yet another heatwave is warming waters off U.S. coasts as oceans all over the world endure warmer-than normal temperatures, according to experts.


The Gulf of Mexico has become the latest region to experience a marine heatwave, in addition to the Northern Atlantic and the Atlantic waters off the coast of Florida, as well as other occurrences around the globe.

Gulf of Mexico experiencing unprecedented ocean temperatures

Average sea surface temperatures across the Gulf of Mexico are the highest on record — and by a significant margin, Michael Lowry, hurricane specialist and storm surge expert for ABC Miami affiliate WPLG, told ABC News.

Temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are averaging 88.2 degrees Fahrenheit, Lowry determined, after analyzing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This breaks the previous weekly record Gulf temperature average of 87 degrees Fahrenheit, set in August 2011.

The historical mean for Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperature in August is about 86 degrees Fahrenheit, Chris Kelble, director of the Ocean Chemistry and Ecosystems division at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Lab in Miami, told ABC News.

Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science, told ABC News the waters in the Gulf are currently “freakishly hot,” describing the temperatures as “beyond what has been observed any time of any year.”

“The fact that this area is about one to two degrees above average right now is substantial and significant,” Kelble said.

Climate change plays a role in amplifying the warm ocean temperatures in the region, making the marine heatwave “more intense,” Kelble further noted.

Average global temperatures were up by 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit for the month of July, making it the warmest July on record, NOAA announced Thursday during its monthly climate advisory. The record was set for the fourth consecutive month, Sarah Kapnick, chief NOAA scientist, told reporters.

Ocean temperatures have a strong connection to climate change, with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change previously declaring it is “virtually certain” that oceans have warmed unabated since 1970 and have absorbed more than 90% of excess heat from the climate system.

The last 10 years were the warmest decade for oceans since at least the 1800s, according to NASA, while last year marked the warmest recorded year on record for ocean waters, and the highest recorded global sea level.

While water is much more difficult to heat than land, it is also much harder to cool.

How marine heatwaves could affect the Atlantic hurricane season

Record-warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures played a partial role in NOAA’s update to its Atlantic hurricane forecast issued last week, which increased the likelihood of an above-normal season to as many as 21 named storms, compared to a typical yearly average of 14 named storms.

The warm waters could also increase the rapid intensification of storm systems as they approach coastlines.

“With the record warmth, hurricanes in the right environment have a higher potential intensity and can more quickly strengthen, giving those in the path less time to prepare,” Lowry said.

The peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is approaching, meaning activity will likely pick up in the coming weeks.

Currently, there is a chance a broad area of low pressure could form in the Central or Western Gulf of Mexico, with some slow development possible as it moves west by the middle of next week.

Coral reefs are suffering from the high temperatures

The warming has also decimated coral reef ecosystems in the region.

A Caribbean-wide coral bleaching event could begin in a matter of days, NOAA announced Thursday in a call with reporters. This will be in addition to the one that began destroying coral off the Florida coast last month.

Since the Atlantic hurricane season has been relatively quiet so far, with just four named and one unnamed storms, there could be an additional month of heat stress in Florida, as tropical cyclones tend to dissipate and redistribute the heat in the ocean, Derek Manzello, coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Program, told reporters on Thursday.

Large-scale heat stress and coral bleaching events are underway in two ocean basins — the Eastern tropical Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean – and in multiple countries, Manzello said.

Confirmed coral bleaching is currently occurring in the Atlantic in areas including Florida, Mexico, Panama, Belize, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in five countries in the Eastern tropical Pacific, including Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama and Columbia, according to NOAA.

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