Hothouse Earth? Welcome to Hot-tub Earth as ocean temps continue to soar

As of June 1, 2024, Florida's sea surface temperatures already are well above average and much warmer for this time of year, threatening another extreme bleaching event for the region's coral reefs.As of June 1, 2024, Florida's sea surface temperatures already are well above average and much warmer for this time of year, threatening another extreme bleaching event for the region's coral reefs. (Source: NOAA Coral Reef Watch)

Record-setting ocean temperatures have fueled yet another global coral bleaching catastrophe and portend an unprecedented hurricane season.

As global bleaching wreaks havoc on the Great Barrier Reef, global ocean temperatures have been breaking records and have been “off the charts” every day since March, 2023. Last summer’s coastal waters along Florida reached hot-tub levels of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38.6° Celsius), with temperatures already above normal now and earlier than usual.

And the above-normal Atlantic Ocean temperatures, major drivers of hurricane strength, have led to predictions of as many as 7 major hurricanes this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. And while that number may seem tolerable or not even alarming, hurricanes are getting stronger and more catastrophic due to the climate emergency, research shows.

Related: World’s ocean surface temperature hits record high: “Headed off the charts

Threatened corals threaten human health

The top black line reflects daily global sea surface temperatures in 2024, with 2023 temperatures in gold. The solid gray and dashed lines reflect each year dating back to 1981 as well as mean and variations from the mean.

The top black line reflects daily global sea surface temperatures in 2024, with 2023 temperatures in gold. The solid gray and dashed lines reflect each year dating back to 1981 as well as mean and variations from the mean. (Source: Climate Reanalyzer, Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine, based on data from NOAA Optimum Interpolation Sea Surface Temperature)

In April, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch declared the world’s fourth global coral bleaching event — the second in the last 10 years. Coral reefs are not just tourist attractions; as many as one billion people around the world depend on reefs for food, coastal protection, cultural practices, and income — collectively valued as much as $11 trillion annually, according to recent research. And scientists estimate 25 percent of all marine species live in and around coral reefs.

Corals “bleach” when above-average temperatures create stress and corals expel the symbiotic zooxanthellae algae that give them color and help them survive. While corals can recover from such events, extended marine heat waves can kill them, resulting in a marine wasteland.

A March 2024 aerial survey of the Central Great Barrier Reef found bleaching prevalance (in white) clearly visible, affecting 60- to 90-percent of the reef pictured.

A March 2024 aerial survey of the Central Great Barrier Reef found bleaching prevalance (in white) clearly visible, affecting 60- to 90-percent of the reef pictured. (Image: Australian Institute of Marine Science, Dr. Neal Cantin)

As scientists nervously monitor Florida’s coral reefs, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered its fifth mass bleaching event since 2016 throughout all three of its regions, The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority confirmed. Aerial surveys found 75 percent of the reefs suffered heat stress “capable of causing coral bleaching,” according to its April final bleaching report.

Related: Saving the Great Barrier Reef from ourselves: a case study

A failure of the international community

Progress made in closing the global gap in climate action remains woefully inadequate — 41 of 42 indicators assessed are not on track to achieve their 2030 targets, according to an annual report published by Systems Change Lab. Thus, reducing greenhouse gas emissions isn’t happening at the pace and scale needed to limit global heating to the critical 1.5°C threshold.

Related: Only a few degrees of global warming? So what.

The report did identify some global efforts “heading in the right direction at a promising, albeit still insufficient, pace,” but that “an enormous acceleration in effort will be required across all sectors to get on track” to meet 2030 global greenhouse emission-reduction targets.

Related: Political will all we need to avert climate catastrophe

Your vote counts, so vote like you mean it

Gerald Ford and Tip O'Neill

Gerald Ford with Tip O’Neill (Source: Wikimedia)

The late Massachusetts Congressman Tip O’Neill (pictured above) is credited for suggesting “all politics is local” — the notion that, to some, suggest local issues outweigh national issues when voters cast their votes. But as no community can escape the extreme impacts of global heading, all climate change is local, too — especially when it is time to vote in the upcoming election.

Inside Climate News has a guide to help you determine which candidates are serious about climate change. Spoiler alert: with few exceptions it’s unlikely to be a Republican — not a single congressional Republican supported the 2022 climate bill dedicating $374 billion to decarbonization and climate resilience.

  • Visit https://vote.gov/ to verify your voting status, register to vote, and check important upcoming dates and deadlines.