More Signs: Monster El Nino Coming Driven by Massive Ocean Heat Gain

April 25, 2023


A recent, rapid heating of the world’s oceans has alarmed scientists concerned that it will add to global warming.

This month, the global sea surface hit a new record high temperature. It has never warmed this much, this quickly.

Scientists don’t fully understand why this has happened.

But they worry that, combined with other weather events, the world’s temperature could reach a concerning new level by the end of next year.

Experts believe that a strong El Niño weather event – a weather system that heats the ocean – will also set in over the next months.

Warmer oceans can kill off marine life, lead to more extreme weather and raise sea levels. They are also less efficient at absorbing planet-warming greenhouse gases.

An important new study, published last week with little fanfare, highlights a worrying development. 

Over the past 15 years, the Earth has accumulated almost as much heat as it did in the previous 45 years, with most of the extra energy going into the oceans. 

This is having real world consequences – not only did the overall temperature of the oceans hit a new record in April this year, in some regions the difference from the long term was enormous.

n March, sea surface temperatures off the east coast of North America were as much as 13.8C higher than the 1981-2011 average. 

“It’s not yet well established, why such a rapid change, and such a huge change is happening,” said Karina Von Schuckmann, the lead author of the new study and an oceanographer at the research group Mercator Ocean International.

“We have doubled the heat in the climate system the last 15 years, I don’t want to say this is climate change, or natural variability or a mixture of both, we don’t know yet. But we do see this change.”

One factor that could be influencing the level of heat going into the oceans is, interestingly, a reduction in pollution from shipping.

In 2020, the International Maritime Organisation put in place a regulation to reduce the sulphur content of fuel burned by ships. 

This has had a rapid impact, reducing the amount of aerosol particles released into the atmosphere. 

But aerosols that dirty the air also help reflect heat back into space – removing them may have caused more heat to enter the waters.

Another important factor that is worrying scientists is the weather phenomenon known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation.

For the past three years this naturally occurring event has been in a cooler phase called La Niña, and has helped keep global temperatures in check.

But researchers now believe that a strong El Niño is forming which will have significant implications for the world.

Heat stored in the Earth system 1960–2020: where does the energy go?

Results obtained reveal a total Earth system heat gain of 381±61 ZJ over the period 1971–2020, with an associated total heating rate of 0.48±0.1 W m−2. About 89 % of this heat is stored in the ocean, about 6 % on land, about 4 % in the cryosphere, and about 1 % in the atmosphere (Figs. 8, 9). The analysis additionally reconfirms an increased heating rate which amounts to 0.76±0.2 W m−2 for the most recent era (2006–2020). The drivers for this change still need to be elucidated, and they most likely reflect the interplay between natural variability and anthropogenic change (Loeb et al., 2021; Kramer et al., 2021; Liu et al., 2020); their implications for changes in the Earth system are reflected in the many record levels of change in the 2000s reported elsewhere (e.g., Cheng et al., 2022b; Forster et al., 2021; Gulev et al., 2021).


10 Responses to “More Signs: Monster El Nino Coming Driven by Massive Ocean Heat Gain”

  1. Anthony O'Brien Says:

    “What are you panicking about, it is just an El Nino we have had them before” and in 12 months time “why didn’t you warn us”. The world has changed and the one after next will probably be worse.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Sunspot counts are generally associated with greater energy output. Here’s a Feb 1, 2023 article:

    Sunspot Counts Hit Their Highest Level in 9 Years

    [Insert denialists' blathering spin here.]

  3. I am trying to find the source of the finding of 13.8C temperature increase near North America in March of this year. It does not appear to be in the Von Schuckman, et al, article. Am I just missing it?

  4. redskylite Says:

    Bob Henson (Yale Climate Connections)
    – “The result is a strengthening west-to-east temperature contrast that increasingly resembles La Niña. Scientists expect that El Niño events will continue to occur – such as the one predicted to arrive later this year – but they will take place on a backdrop of an ocean that looks more like La Niña. ”

  5. Ron Benenati Says:

    As people tell me about how quickly humanity can make the shift to the necessary carbon reductions to save the day one the slow wheels of progress kick in, I am never surprised by how it is nature who is the one proving it is just not fast enough. She is not waiting for us to “get around to it.”

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “Listen, and understand. Catastrophic climate change is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until the planet reaches an equilibrium temperature.”

      • Ron Benenati Says:

        I’ve spent enough time in disaster mgmt pulling neighborhoods out to the mud, enough time working on rated projects since the late 1980’s to have an understanding the trajectory we have initiated, that perhaps you seem to assume I don’t understand. Understand too well. Enough time in Vietnam to understand what happens when social fabric frays under pressure and what existential crisis is like and the many forms it comes packaged in. It is not an intellectual exercise for me.
        Regardless, my problem stems from the dread that comes with each new milestone measured against the dismal state human chaos and decades long fits, starts and stumbles; denials and stupidity that litters the entire length of the journey. I don’t expect my comments here to have any effect on outcome. But I can’t read something like this and not vent my frustration.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Oh, I well understood your comment about nature not waiting for us to get our asses in gear.

          My version of that statement is the old (modified) Terminator quote.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: