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sea temperature

Sea temperature

The oceanic heat wave causes an abrupt rise in the sea in the Canary Islands.

Since March, the Oceanographic Centre of the Canary Islands has confirmed an anomaly of one more degree

The Canary Islands are one of the regions of the planet affected by a marine heatwave since last March. It is a "very abrupt" episode that has raised the surface temperature of the ocean by half a degree in just one year, an unprecedented phenomenon since in situ measurements began in 1982.

The director of the Oceanographic Centre of the Canary Islands, Pedro Vélez Belchí, highlights the "significantly different" nature of the event, of special intensity in the Atlantic and South Pacific, if compared to the records of the last four decades, in which the studies carried out indicate that the increase in temperature was one degree. "Since the end of last winter, we have observed an increase in temperature above the average value and, more surprisingly, the value of the previous year," he says.

The expert points out that, "it is not that it has been increasing slowly and more and more rapidly, which would be an acceleration of the process, but that this year there has been a considerable jump". In addition, he points out that for the first time, the highest temperature of the year has not been recorded at the end of August or beginning of September, as usual, but in mid-October. Vélez, who holds a PhD in Physical Sciences, acknowledges the existence of doubts among experts about the specific causes that have caused this warming, although everything points to a set of factors.

"The hypotheses are headed in several directions. In addition to the global warming of the planet (less abrupt than this episode), there is the El Niño phenomenon, confirmed from February, which cannot be predicted and we do not know if it will be as powerful as in 2015, the largest so far," explained the director of the Oceanographic Center of the Canary Islands, who pointed out a third theory that scientists are studying: the "supereruption" of Hunga Tonga in the Pacific on January 15, 2022.

According to a NASA study, the underwater volcano ejected up to 146 billion liters of water (almost 60,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools) into the stratosphere in the form of water vapor, which acts as a greenhouse gas. There are theories that the effects of the largest volcanic explosion recorded on Earth in the Modern Era will last for at least five years on the climate.

The United Nations underscores the role of the oceans as the planet's largest carbon sinks, largely absorbing excess heat and energy released from gas emissions. Climate Action studies indicate that, as the oceans gain temperature, a series of progressive effects are triggered, ranging from melting of the poles and rising sea levels to the emergence of marine heat waves, such as the current one, and sea acidification.

Regarding the consequences of the increase in ocean surface temperature in the surroundings of the Archipelago, Pedro Vélez points out, among others, a possible displacement in the spawning times of organisms and the reduction of resources for small pelagic species due to a reduction in primary production.

Regarding the rise in sea level and its probable impact on island coasts, the expert recalls that the measured increase is in the order of 2 or 3 millimeters per year on a global scale. "In the Canary Islands it is below two millimetres, although it depends on the areas." In addition, he stresses that a series of parameters must be taken into account, since in order to discern the impact caused by global warming, it is necessary to study the acceleration and not the continuous increase. "Obviously there is a progressive change because the water is warming, occupying more volume and the sea is increasing, but there are doubts about its acceleration," he says.

In addition to putting the thermometer on the sea by satellite, the research centre, dependent on the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, carries out campaigns every six months with a ship that submerges technical equipment in the seabed to check the temperature and aspects such as the conductivity, density and salinity of the water.

Studies reveal that, unlike in the highest layer, since 1997 there have been no variations in the average of the first 800 meters of depth, with the exception of 2015, the year of El Niño. Up to 1,500 there is no alteration and in the deepest part, where the centre of Tenerife is a benchmark in the precision of measurements, a small cooling has been detected. In this sense, it is worth remembering that the greatest sea depths, around 4,200 metres, are located to the west of La Palma.

The Oceanographic Centre of the Canary Islands is responsible for researching the entire marine ecosystem, from bacteria to cetacean populations. "The more variable an ecosystem is, the better it works," says Pedro Vélez. The facilities, located in the Fishing Dock of the capital of Tenerife, employ 70 people, of which 13 are researchers, "although we would like there to be more", stresses its director.
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