Climate change could make the world's oceans amnesiac

Climate change could make the world’s oceans amnesiac

Big waves are breaking on the English coast.

Big waves are breaking on the English coast.
Photo: Dan Kitwood (Getty Images)

Climate change is causing the world’s oceans to lose their “memory” according to new research.

A report in Scientists progress finds that ocean temperatures will fluctuate dramatically as these waters llose their ability to regulate and “remember” recent conditions, including temperatures. Water literally has no memory, of course, no matter what homeopaths complaint– but the great bodies that make up the global ocean tend to be unshakable. Unlike the weather, which can change drastically from day to day, changes in the ocean happen little by little, and the ability to maintain this stability is like a “memory” for the ocean.

It is related to the thickness of the upper layer of the ocean, also called the mixed layer. This section is expected to become shallower with climate change. Research has shown that the mixed layer gets smaller in spring and summer when temperatures are higher, and a warming climate means seasonal heat is more intense and longer lasting in many parts of the world. Jits might end up at unusually fluctuating sea surface temperatures. Researchers from several institutes, including the University of Hawaii, have used climate models to calculate different results based on low, medium or high greenhouse gas emissions. They found that ocean memory is likely to decline worldwide by the end of this century.

Decline of oceanic memory between the present and the end of the 21st century.  Blue indicates decline, red indicates memory increase.

Decline of oceanic memory between the present and the end of the 21st century. Blue indicates decline, red indicates memory increase.
Picture: Shi, et al. (2022)

Daisy Hui Shi, a climate researcher at the Farallon Institute and lead author of the study, explained that if ocean surface temperature becomes more difficult to predict, it will have large-scale effects.. In fisheries management, for example, future fish stocks are estimated based on the assumption that the ocean remains relatively stable. Without that stability, those fishing estimates will become unreliable, she told Earther. Unstable ocean environments could also make it difficult to predict major changes that will affect fragile marine ecosystems, adding new challenges to conservation efforts.

Hui Shi said the models used in the study focused on climate change as a major driver and did not take into account natural changes that occur in the ocean, such as seasonal changes in currents, which is a search limitation.

She noted that not being able to predict ocean temperatures can also affect other weather forecasts. “[It’s also about] precipitation on land…ocean memory is so important, and it’s really important to have the predictability,” said Hui Shi. “We also use the ocean to forecast temperature and precipitation. and even extreme events,” such as heat waves and heavy downpours.

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