(KXAN) — A new study has found that surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico have warmed approximately twice as fast as the global ocean over the last 50 years.
The study, published last month in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate and conducted by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Northern Gulf Institute (NGI), found “significant warming” of the Gulf’s sea surface temperature — a 1.8°F jump between 1970-2020.
This works out to 0.34°F of warming per decade, equating to roughly twice the rate of warming observed in the global ocean as a whole.
Researchers found warming at all depths of the Gulf of Mexico, from the sea surface to the ocean floor, but the greatest warming was observed in the upper 50 meters of the ocean.
In the study, NOAA and NGI scientists analyzed 192,890 temperature profiles collected in the Gulf of Mexico between 1950-2020 by gliders, Argo floats, and Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) meters.
Why this is important
The global ocean stores tremendous amounts of heat, and that heat storage is increasing as the climate warms. In fact, just the top few meters of global ocean depth store as much heat as the Earth’s entire atmosphere.
As the NCEI explains, warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico can lead to sea levels rising, a larger dead zone (where there are lower levels of oxygen) for fish and wildlife, and more intense hurricanes.
For those living near the Gulf, warming waters can also cause warmer overnight temperatures, Nexstar’s KXAN explains. That could be especially true during the summer when prevailing winds are from the southeast.
UN warns of rising seas
Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned global sea levels have risen faster since 1900 and their relentless increase puts countries like Bangladesh, China, India and the Netherlands at risk and acutely endangers nearly 900 million people living in low-lying coastal areas.
In a grim speech to the Security Council’s first-ever meeting on the threat to international peace and security from rising sea levels, Guterres declared that sea levels will rise significantly even if global warming is “miraculously” limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the elusive international goal.
He warned the Earth is more likely on a path to warming that amounts to “a death sentence” for countries vulnerable to that rise, including many small island nations.
In addition to threatened countries, Guterres said, “mega-cities on every continent will face serious effects, including Cairo, Lagos, Maputo, Bangkok, Dhaka, Jakarta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires and Santiago.”
“Our world is hurtling past the 1.5-degree warming limit that a livable future requires, and with present policies, is careening towards 2.8 degrees — a death sentence for vulnerable countries,” Guterres said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.