Cause for great concern as sea surface temperatures reach all time high

Last week, the Copernicus climate modelling service has reported an all time high in the global average daily sea surface temperatures. Kathryn Brown, Director of Climate Change and Evidence, explains why this is reason for great concern.

We are deeply worried by the trends being reported by climate scientists today and over the past weeks, showing unprecedented changes in global sea surface temperature, Antarctic sea ice, global land surface temperature, and associated heatwaves, flooding and wildfire incidents around the world.

Many of these events are breaking global records. Today’s release by the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service shows global average sea surface temperatures not only breaking the previous highest temperature measured in 2016, but also exhibiting a pattern of increase never previously recorded. Scientists are working hard to understand what is happening, but are not yet able to tell us details about the factors contributing to this shift, beyond having high confidence that climate change is causing the underlying increase in temperature.

It has long been predicted and communicated through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that unique and threatened ecosystems, such as warm water coral reefs, are at high risk of loss at levels of global warming between 1 and 1.5°C. This is what is now being observed, for example off the coast of Florida, where corals are not only bleaching, but dying very quickly. 

Other threats highlighted in the IPCC’s latest assessment report in the near-term are large declines in sea-ice dependent species, mass mortality of animals and plants during heatwaves, and mass tree mortality in some regions.

The UK will not be immune to the changes we are seeing now. The large spike in sea surface temperature will have impacts on marine species across the world, and if it continues could have significant impacts on global marine food webs, ocean currents and storm activity. It is very hard to predict exactly what these changes might be, as short-term scenarios of hazards for the next one to five years are not available.

So far the current UK Government has stayed silent on the climate trends being reported by scientists around the world. At The Wildlife Trusts, we reiterate our call on UK Government to accelerate action to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, to work with other countries globally to do the same, and to do much more to help the country to adapt, wherever possible, to the changes we are seeing now. In particular, we need much more information on what could happen in the next 1-5 years, and there is an urgent need for the Government to resource efforts to create plausible scenarios of short-term risk.

In the meantime, The Wildlife Trusts will continue to do whatever we can to protect wildlife in this country, on land and in the sea, and to take action to address the twin nature and climate crises globally.