Changing ocean seasonal cycle escalates destructive marine heatwaves in a warming climate
June 17,2022

Shengpeng Wang, Zhao Jing, Lixin Wu, Hong Wang, Jian Shi, Zhaohui Chen, Xiaohui Ma, Bolan Gan, Haiyuan Yang and Xin Liu

Published in Environmental Research Letters, April 2022

Marine heatwaves (MHWs) can cause various adverse effects on marine ecosystems associated with complicated social ramifications. It has been well established that the gradually rising sea surface temperature (SST) due to anthropogenic carbon emission will cause an increase of the MHW duration and intensity. However, for species with strong adaptation capacity or mobility, MHW changes due to the altered SST variability under greenhouse warming are more crucial but so far remain poorly assessed. Under the high carbon emission scenario, we show that the cumulative duration (intensity) of MHWs, with the effect of secular SST increase excluded, is projected to be 60% (100%) higher by the end of this century than in the 1990s due to an amplified SST seasonal cycle. This increase becomes more evident for stronger MHWs, reaching up to 8 (30) folds for the extreme MHW category. The amplified SST seasonal cycle also causes pronounced seasonality of MHWs, making them more active in summer-autumn than winter-spring. Our results suggest that MHWs are likely to have increasingly devastating impacts on a wide range of marine species in the future without taking effective steps for carbon emission reduction.

Fig. Global distribution of projected MHW changes attributed to changing SST variability under the high carbon emission scenario. (a), Absolute and (c), relative increasing rates for the annual cumulative duration (CD) in the 21st century averaged over all the CGCM simulations. (b), (d), Same as (a), (c), but for the annual cumulative intensity (CI). Regions with the increasing rate statistically insignificant at 0.05 significance level are masked by white.

Wang, S., Jing, Z., Wu, L. et al. 2022. Changing ocean seasonal cycle escalates destructive marine heatwaves in a warming climate. Environ. Res. Lett. 17.

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