As Seas get Hotter, South Florida gets Slammed by an Ocean Heat Wave


An ocean heat wave in waters around Florida has scientists worried about cascading disasters, from fueling hurricanes and coral bleaching to exacerbating record heat on land.

Ocean temperatures have soared five degrees above normal since early July. This warming has been ignited by an El Nino weather pattern that’s collided with human-caused climate change.

“It’s bonkers. I don’t know how else to put it,” said Ben Kirtman, an atmospheric scientist with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School. “Normally when you break records, you break records by a tenth of a degree, maybe a quarter of a degree. … Here, we’re breaking it by five degrees.”

If scientists were to model the chances for such a spike in temperature, he said, it would amount to one in 250,000 years.

“It’s out of bounds from what we’ve seen,” Kirtman said.

Summertime seas around South Florida typically average about 88 degrees. But beginning in July, ocean monitors stationed along the coast began recording temperatures hovering in the low 90s. In Florida Bay, the wide shallow bay between the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico, temperatures climbed above 98 degrees.

More ocean heat waves coming

South Florida’s ocean heat wave arrived as global ocean temperatures have steadily climbed since April. That prompted forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to predict that half the planet’s oceans could undergo heat waves by September.

In its last assessment of the warming planet, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found the Earth has heated up 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past two centuries. Scientists warned that marine heat waves, like the one inflaming waters around Florida, would become more commonplace. That increasing heat, the IPCC said, could likely push some sea life “to the limits of their resilience.”