Editorial: Hot water records are more ominous than marks on land

Published 10:54 am Monday, August 24, 2009

Aug. 24, 2009

While this has been a relatively cool summer in southwest Michigan, ocean temperatures have been reaching record highs.

Swimmers enjoyed 72-degree water in Maine.

Farther south, in Ocean City, Md., the water temperature hit an unrefreshing 88 degrees.
Breaking heat records in water is more ominous a sign of climate change than shattering temperature marks on land because water takes longer to heat up and does not cool off as easily as land.

It takes five times more energy to warm water than land.

While we luxuriated in the coolest July ever, July was the hottest the world’s oceans have seen in almost 130 years of keeping records.

The average temperature worldwide was 62.6 degrees, according to the National Climactic Data Center, the branch of the federal government that maintains global weather records.
June was only slightly cooler. Scientists say August could set another record, thanks to a natural El Nino system settling on top of man-made global warming.

An El Nino occurs when part of the central Pacific warms, which, in turn, alters weather patterns worldwide for many months.

Warmer water affects weather on land.

A developing El Nino in the Pacific Ocean will likely not affect the first freeze this fall in the Midwest, according to Steve Hilberg, director of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), University of Illinois.

With delayed spring planting, unusually cool summer weather and dry conditions in parts of the Midwest contributing to slow development of corn and soybeans, agricultural producers are looking nervously ahead into the fall.

Crops in the southern half of the Midwest are up to three weeks behind normal development for this stage in the season.

An early end to the growing season would result in reduced yields.

Ocean heat threatens coral reefs, strengthens hurricanes and could further speed the melting of Arctic ice.

In fact, the heat is most noticeable close to the Arctic, where water temperatures hover almost 10 degrees above average.

Water warming in more places than usual while cooler air concentrates over land is something that has not been seen in more than 50 years and might merit monitoring of its own.