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2015's record heat led to wilder weather, struggling marine life

  • Published at 12:01 am August 5th, 2016
2015's record heat led to wilder weather, struggling marine life

The warming planet continues to break heat records, contributing to wilder weather and more challenging environments for marine life. The latest annual checkup from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2015 paints a grim picture.

Among the report’s highlights are that air and ocean temperatures are getting warmer, with a powerful El Nino adding fuel to the fire.  The temperatures have contributed to an increase in heat waves and other major weather events, including typhoons and hurricanes. And these changes are also dealing a heavy blow to coral reefs and marine animals.

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Here’s a rundown of some of the NOAA report’s key findings.

Extreme heat

Temperatures in 2015 broke the previously smashed records from 2014 — it was the hottest year in 136 years of record keeping.

A heat wave in Pakistan and India contributed to the deaths of thousands of people as temperatures climbed above 40°C in some parts of those countries. The record high for India was set in May when the temperature reached 51°C in the city of Phalodi. Europe also underwent a massive heat wave — London had its hottest July day on record, reaching 36.7°C.

Faster glacial melt

The poles are seeing some of the most dramatic changes due to the warming sea and air temperatures. Signs of the warming can be seen in glaciers, which have been melting for decades, but some of the most dramatic changes were seen in the Greenland ice sheet, more than half of which had reached a melting point in 2015. And the Zachariae Isstrom glacier separated from the bedrock it had been frozen to and is beginning to slide into the ocean.

Penguins, walruses suffer from heat

The heat is affecting more than just the ice sheets and glaciers.

The report states that a loss of sea ice in the Antarctic, particularly around the Bellingshausen Sea, is taking its toll on penguins. The population of the Adélie penguin has crashed to its lowest level. There were about 10,000 breeding pairs in the population in the early ‘90s, and now there are less than half that number, according to the report.

In the Northern Hemisphere, walruses are also feeling the heat.

The animals mate along the ice edges in the winter and give birth on sea ice in the spring. They also often rest on the sea ice. But with that ice shrinking, the animals have been resting on the shoreline. The report says this has resulted in calf fatalities “due to overcrowding and trampling.”

El Nino and the Pacific Blob

El Nino, the natural phenomenon that produces warmer temperatures every few years, has proven to be an exacerbating factor in the overall warming climate.  It has likely contributed to the stubborn “Pacific Blob,” a mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean.

This mass of warm water has likely led to a large toxic algae bloom in the region. The ribbon of algae reached a size of up to 64km wide and 198 metres deep, stretching from the coast of California to Alaska. While the blob has begun to dissipate, some scientists say it’s not going away soon — it’s just going deeper.

Coral death watch

In some parts of the Pacific Ocean, the coral on the sea floor looks like “a ghost town,” according to University of Victoria coral reef scientist Julia Baum. The coral around the island of Kiritimati has been on its highest level of alert for stress since June 2015.

Mark Eakin from NOAA called the coral death there “gruesome.”  He said that more than a third of the world’s coral reefs are under an official death watch. The reefs just can’t survive when the water is so warm.

And the Australian coral reefs have been suffering for years — some of the reefs are completely “snow white,” according to Terry Hughes, from the country’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force. Coral can survive mild or short-term bleaching and recover, but not if it goes on for too long or is too severe.

Wilder weather

The year 2015 not only broke temperature records, but also spawned more hurricanes and cyclones during the 12 months since records have been kept.

NOAA says there were more tropical cyclones in 2015, and more powerful hurricanes occurred at the same time in the central Pacific hurricane basin. The fact that there were three Category 4 hurricanes at the same time “was a first, not just for the central Pacific basin, but for any basin during the modern record,” stated the report.

Unfortunately, we won’t likely get a break from the challenges brought on my warming temperatures — 2016 is set to continue the trend and break 2015’s record.

[This is an excerpt from a CBC article, which can be found at http://bit.ly/2axV5mD]