It’s been a summer of record-breaking high temperatures around the globe. Photographs of parched, cracked soil, ranchers auctioning off cattle they can’t feed or water, and raging forest fires are daily reminders of the price the planet is paying for man’s addiction to fossil fuels.
Just how hot is it? May 2012 was the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 21st-century average. And in June, some 3,200-heat records were broken in the U.S. alone.
Sadly, the ocean is not immune to this heatwave. Fish populations are moving to get away from warmer waters. Coral reefs continue to die off at record pace. And bacteria, algae, and phytoplankton are all blooming in places they didn’t use to. Behold five impacts of warming temperatures on the ocean during the summer of 2012.
(Photo: Glowimages/Getty Images)
Increased Bacteria Growth
In the Baltic Sea, bacteria is growing as sea surface temperatures rise, causing infections in humans ranging from cholera to gastroenteritis-like symptoms. A study by the U.K.-based Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science indicates that the one-degree increase this summer makes the Baltic the fastest-warming ecosystem yet surveyed. But similar bacterial outbreaks have been reported in Chile, Peru, Israel, the northwest of the U.S. and Spain.
(Photo: Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images)
Extra Iron in the Ocean
A group of scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany is purposely trying to grow algae as a way to help absorb the increasing amount of warming CO2 found in the ocean. In a recent experiment, the group sprinkled iron into a patch of the Southern Ocean to essentially fertilize algae growth, which may—or may not!—soak up huge amounts of carbon. The idea is that the algae will suck up CO2 and then sink to the cold and dark of the ocean floor. If successful and practiced on a huge, international scale, enriching the ocean with iron could help slow the impact of global warming on the ocean. The worst case, though, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, is that mucking up the ocean with a bunch of added iron could have serious impact on already-out-of-whack ecosystems.
(Photo: Guang Niu/Getty Images)
Too Hot for Lobsters!
Even waters along the notoriously frigid coast of Maine are warming slightly, and its most populous marine life—lobsters—aren’t happy. For the cold-blooded, cold-water loving lobster, warmer ocean temperatures mean a bigger expenditure of energy, so they have started migrating from the warming waters between Long Island Sound and Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, north into the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. At the same time, researchers at the New England Aquarium have linked warming temperatures to a spread of lobster shell disease off the coast of Massachusetts.
(Photo: C Galasso/Getty Images)
Melting Ice and Stray Icebergs
The Atlantic coastline has seen dramatic new melting in Greenland during the summer of 2012. NASA satellites spied a new iceberg—twice the size of Manhattan—that has apparently broken off the Petermann Glacier and is headed slowly south, melting as it moves. In mid-July, another NASA satellite showed the top layer of ice covering Greenland to be 40 percent intact. Four days later 97 percent of that ice cover had melted.
(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Jellyfish Swarms Along Coasts
Just like last summer, swarms of jellyfish are showing up along the coast of Spain, and recently a thousand swimmers off Malaga were sent running for first aid after having been stung. A dry winter followed by a warm spring and hot summer is to blame, say marine biologists with the oceanographic agency Aula del Mar. To protect the beach economy, teams of collectors, armed with baskets, have been sent out to sea to collect jellyfish before they can be swept onto the beach. In one day off Malaga, 1,700 pounds of jellyfish were caught and brought to land to be destroyed.