“Astounding” ocean surface temperatures recorded in 2023 spark global concern

Scientists and climate experts are sounding the alarm after a new study by the Advances in Atmospheric Sciences journal revealed that global ocean temperatures were significantly higher in 2023 than in the previous year. They warn that unless action is taken quickly, the damage being done by manmade pollutants could be catastrophic.  

Last year, surface temperatures reached record levels around the world, with an annual mean of 0.23ºC higher than in 2022, which climbed to an “astounding” 0.3ºC higher in the second half of 2023, according the report put out by the Advances in Atmospheric Sciences journal.

While the Mediterranean basin, a region home to 500 million people, is believed to be warming 20% faster than the global average, the Mediterranean Sea is a considerable source of concern too. Average temperatures recorded in 2023 were the highest on record since the 1950s and the hottest ever reading for the sea was taken during the summer, when a Spanish research unit noted a peak of 28.71ᵒC. 

Globally, the report also noted record levels of stratification, where the warmer surface waters fail to mix with the colder waters deeper down, thus preventing proper oxygenation. This reduces the amount of carbon dioxide the seas can absorb and is a hazard for marine life.  

The study places the blame squarely on greenhouse gas emissions produced through human activities, which have caused “about 90% of the excess heat accumulated in the Earth system [to be] deposited in the world’s oceans”.  

“The ocean is the key to telling us what’s happening to the world and the data is painting a compelling picture of warming year after year after year,” Professor John Abraham, a contributor to the study, told The Guardian. “We’re already facing the consequences and they will get far worse if we don’t take action, but we can solve this problem today with wind, solar, hydro and energy conservation. Once people realise that, it’s very empowering. We can usher in the new energy economy of the future, saving money and the environment at the same time.” 


Air temperatures also hit record levels last year: 1.48ºC higher than pre-industrial levels and perilously close to the 1.5ºC target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

Although partly explained by 2023 being an El Niño year, a natural and cyclical phenomenon usually associated with warmer temperatures, damaging emissions are nevertheless a major driver and scientists at the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the EU’s Earth observation programme, suspect thesymbolic 1.5ºC mark will be exceded in the next 12 months.  


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Photo source: Despina Galani, Unsplash