Underwater Global Warming

Rebecca Maxwell


One of the biggest concerns shared by both scientists and non-scientists alike is that of global warming. Global warming is the gradual increase in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, and this is a sign and contributor to overall climate change, something that could dramatically affect all life on the planet. Another sign of climate change is increases in sea-surface temperatures. These temperatures have been rising since the 1970s. However, through the use of satellites, scientists have now discovered that this increase has slowed down in the last few years.

Scientists use satellites to more closely monitor surface temperatures of the Earth’s oceans and seas. These satellites, which act in many ways like flying thermometers, measure and record these temperatures for the benefit of climate change research and for improving weather and ocean forecasts. These recordings are currently telling a somewhat different story of climate change, at least when it comes to ocean temperatures. The data is showing that the increase of sea-surface temperatures in last fifteen years has slowed considerably.

The causes and implications of this trend are still unknown. Scientists hypothesize that the slowing could be due to a rearrangement of how the ocean exchanges warm, surface waters with the deeper, cold water below 700 meters (about ½ mile). While these signs of global warming are being hidden underwater, so to speak, but could emerge with other changes in sea level and ocean circulation patterns. Moreover, other indicators of climate change, including the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, rising sea levels, and the decrease in Arctic sea ice, are still charging full speed ahead.

The slowing of sea-surface temperatures are prompting scientists and researchers to continue their monitoring of the ocean by satellite and other means in order to get a larger picture of this trend. One of the major players in the monitoring of these temperatures is the Climate Change Initiative from the European Space Agency (ESA). The CCI has recognized the need for a better understanding of this slowdown and is relying on satellite readings for detecting these changes. The ESA began monitoring sea-surface temperatures back in 1991.

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The ESA’s Climate Control Initiative is looking both to the future and the past to get a better idea of long-term changes in sea-surface temperatures. Scientists are hoping to apply their data-gathering methods to earlier satellites so that they can compile reliable information from the 1980s. The ESA will also continue to monitor sea-surface temperatures with its Sentinel-3 mission scheduled for launch in 2015 as well as tracking other environmental and climate changes.

Mediterranean sea-surface temperature. Source: European Space Agency.
Mediterranean sea-surface temperature. Source: European Space Agency.

Reference: Is global warming hiding underwater? – European Space Agency


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About the author
Rebecca Maxwell
Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who loves to write about a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in History from Boise State University. Rebecca has also been a contributing writer on GISLounge.com