Study examines impacts of climate events on marine heatwaves

A new international study has examined how climate events thousands of kilometres away can influence local marine ecosystems.

Published in Nature Communications, the research provides an assessment of major drivers of marine heatwaves, which often have devastating impacts on local marine ecosystems.

Co-author Dr Thomas Wernberg, from the University of Australia’s Oceans Institute and School of Biological Sciences, said while the frequency of marine heatwave days had increased across the globe by more than 50 per cent over the past century, the ability to predict them had been limited. “Despite their serious consequences, our understanding of their drivers has been largely based on isolated case studies until now,” Dr Wernberg said. The new study looked at marine heatwaves and their drivers in 22 regions across four oceans and climate zones, based on published papers since 1950. Researchers also examined relationships between marine heatwaves and nine known climate oscillations or patterns such as El Niño, and used satellite records to estimate the intensities, durations and extents of the heatwaves. “We found marine heatwaves may be influenced by several factors in combination, and from processes that might be local, or remote, to the events,” Dr Wernberg said. The El Niño – Southern Oscillation, for example, was found to not only influence marine heatwaves in the Pacific Ocean but also the Indian Ocean and played a strong role in the extreme marine heatwave known as the Ningaloo Niño in Western Australia in 2011.

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