Oceans hit highest ever temperature amid climate change warnings

Rising sea temperatures could have dire consequences for the planet, scientists warn

Oceans have hit their highest recorded temperature, beating a record previously set in 2016.

The average daily global sea temperature reached 20.96C on August 1, experts at the EU's climate change service Copernicus revealed.

The latest reading beats the previous record for average sea surface temperatures set in March 2016, when temperatures hit 20.95C.

It is thought the temperature will only continue to rise - breaking more records - as global sea temperatures usually peak in March, not August.

Scientists warn the rising sea temperatures could have dire consequences for the planet, including an impact on fish stocks and causing glaciers to melt.

“The level of warmth we are seeing today is only possible because of the warming over the past 150 years due to human activity,” Dr Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth told the New York Times.

The temperatures may be in part driven by the El Niño phenomenon. Every few years, this phenomenon causes the sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean to become substantially warmer than average.

El Niño is the world's biggest climate driver, ITV News Meteorologist Chris Page explains, and it can cause droughts, heatwaves, and increased rainfall globally.

Beyond the El Niño phenomenon, it is likely the record average sea surface temperatures is exacerbated by climate change.

In many ways, Dr Hausfather tells the paper, the ocean is “the most accurate thermometer we have for the actual effect of climate change, because it’s where most of the heat ends up.”

The hot water has caused coral bleaching in Florida. Credit: NOAA via AP

The rise in temperature could potentially be caused by the heat previously being absorbed into the ocean's depths is making its way to the surface.

The ocean serves as a vital climate regulator, as it absorbs approximately 90% of the excess heat produced by human activity.

This heat is then distributed globally through ocean currents, Copernicus explains, releasing some of it into the atmosphere and allowing the rest to penetrate deeper layers of the ocean.

But this process is taking its toll on the environment - the consequences include the thinning of sea ice and ice shelves, and a grave impact on marine species and habitats.

It also causes an increase in extreme weather and climate events, including marine heatwaves.

In recent months marine heatwaves have been observed off the coast of Florida, Australia, and in the waters around the UK.

Last week, the waters around Florida hit "hot tub" temperatures when the seawater temperature exceeded 37.8C for two days in a row.

The effects of hot water around Florida include coral bleaching and even some death in what had been one of the Florida Keys' most resilient reefs.

News of the record global ocean temperature comes on the same week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves by granting more than 100 new licences for extraction in the North Sea.

The plans have been criticised by climate campaigners, opposition parties and even leading green Conservatives amid fears of how they will affect the UK’s mission to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

On Thursday, Greenpeace campaigners draped black fabric from the roof of Mr Sunak's Yorkshire home in a bid to "drive home the dangerous consequences of a new drilling frenzy". Five people were arrested and later released on conditional police bail.

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