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This is your ocean under global warming
Dr. Rob Moir -- Ocean River Institute Dr. Rob Moir -- Ocean River Institute
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Cambridge , MA
Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Video: Rob’s kitchen demonstration of the wine-dark sea in a pint glass. 

We all know communities that believe their children are better than average. Lately, I’ve been startled to hear conservation colleagues down by the Gulf of Maine, in Boston, Portsmouth and Portland, say their ocean water is special because it’s warming faster due to climate change than seawater anywhere else. They think their sea is more troubled than others, and this time no one is talking fishing.

Local concerns for miscreant seawaters began with the report of a respectable science journal in 2015. The piece had been picked up by media outlets with much to do about the implications, consequences, and what to blame.  The article boiled down to two sentences. “Between 2004 and 2013, the mean surface temperature of the Gulf of Maine rose a remarkable 4 degrees.”  Last year’s “rise in temperature exceeded those found in 99 percent of the world’s other large bodies of saltwater.”

People are welcome to their beliefs and if it leads to more responsible actions so much the better.  My interest was piqued in November when I went on a whale watch out of Boston and later to a science café in Portsmouth.

The whale watch narrator explained global warming is like a blanket of greenhouse gasses on the water, warming it.   What she did not say explicitly but inferred, is that this bit of ocean is warming faster because it’s got a thicker climate change blanket on it.  I got an image of the world wrapped in a quilt of patches of varying thicknesses, and unfortunately we got a thick patch.

Climate Change is not place specific; it’s global.  The winds blow around the world because the world is spinning.  So some of the air we breathe today was air in China 3 to 6 months ago.  The climate change blanket is of one thickness everywhere.  It does not bunch up like your comforter at the end of the bed to warm your feet more than your shoulders.  Instead, as the amount greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere goes up the climate change blanket thickens uniformly.

At the science café in a pub with less than a pint inside me, a marine biology doctoral student explained why rising surface water temperatures are a concern for lobsters and bottom dwelling demersal fish (cod, haddock, halibut and hake). He said that they could correlate surface water temperature with the temperatures of water deeper down.

I did not challenge their assumptions of ocean dynamics.  Instead I came up with an experiment to demonstrate how important surface waters are to the health of ocean ecosystems. In my kitchen, I got out a measured pint glass. I poured some old wine up to the 12-ounce line to represent the wine-dark sea.  I added a level tablespoon of salt to bring the salinity to about 40 parts per thousand or 4% salt, thinking I would create Homer’s sea. I stirred with a long handled spoon.  Later I found much salt still crystalized on the bottom, so perhaps this was closer to Gulf of Maine Seawater at 34 parts per thousand.

I poured tap water from a small pitcher onto a spoon so as not to disturb the waters.  I filled it to the brim, the full 16 ounces.  There was some mixing because the top water took on a pinkish color.

For Global Warming I turned on a hair dryer and held it close to the pint glass.  It made the surface ripple.  I turned my cell phone’s video recorder on and watched the distinct boundary layer, the thermocline, where the water turned from pink to red.   I watched the 12-ounce mark and saw no mixing of surface and deep water.  After a couple of minutes, I turned the hair dryer off.

Energy as heat from the hair dryer had gone into the pink sea surface layer.  Yet, there was no mixing into the deep waters.  Hot air and warming surface waters had no effect on the vast waters below.  Had there been a crayfish at the bottom of my pint glass, it would have felt no change in conditions when the hair dryer was on.   This is good news for lobsters and cod living on the ocean floor.

The reason researchers found surface water temperatures differing from one year to the next, and needed to find a medium, like an average temperature, before looking for trends is because surface water temperature is determined by how hot or cold the water was when entering the sea.  It is also effected by air temperatures because it has so little depth and so much area in contact with the air, like a lens on the water.  No surprise, surface waters are warmer in the summer, colder in the winter.  Their temperatures swing with the seasons.

The science article failed to give context of how much surface waters varied year to year.  It did not present surface water temperatures for the other three seasons or give salinity values, needed to determine density.

The surface water temperatures of the Gulf of Maine have always varied more widely than Atlantic Ocean temperatures because surface waters are the very top of the water column. If the top 1% keeps all the heat and does not conduct it to the water body below, it will increase its temperature.  That change in degrees, be it as many as 4 degrees, will have no effect on the water bodies below.

The “rise in temperature exceeded those found in 99 percent of the world’s other large bodies of saltwater.”  The reason for this extraordinary finding is that nowhere else are the weather-fickle vagrancies of surface water temperatures considered relevant to large bodies of saltwater.  Oceanographers, lobsters, cod and many others are not concerned with the water temperature of the top 1%.

The Ocean River Institute provides opportunities to make a difference and go the distance for savvy stewardship of a greener and bluer planet Earth.  www.oceanriver.org 

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Rob Moir
Title: Director
Group: Ocean River Institute
Dateline: Cambridge, MA United States
Direct Phone: 617-661-6647
Main Phone: 617 661-6647
Cell Phone: 978 621-6657
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