More heat? Second-largest Pacific Ocean heat wave now underway

Published: Sep. 23, 2019 at 6:18 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Many have been trying to beat Hawaii’s record breaking summertime heat by heading to the beach.

Unfortunately, there’s a heatwave now underway in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

That’s according to researchers at NOAA, who are monitoring the heatwave stretching from California to Alaska and down to Hawaii.

A map shows water temperatures that are three degrees above normal around Hawaii.

“Off of Hawaii, this is also the second-largest event you’ve had in 40 years, so it’s just like in California” said NOAA research oceanographer Andrew Leising, in Long Beach.

“This event is ocean, basin wide, and it’s really big,” he added.

The largest North Pacific Ocean marine heat wave happened from 2014 to 2016. It was referred to as “the blob” because of the large area of red and dark orange that appeared on ocean surface temperature maps.

The ocean heatwave caused major coral bleaching of Hawaiian reefs in 2015. About 90 percent of the Big Island’s bleached coral died.

The marine heat wave also brought higher than normal temperatures on land in 2015.

“Seventy-one percent of the earth is covered by water. And if that’s warm, we’re probably going to be warm,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Chevy Chevalier.

There have been close to 200 record high temperatures around the state this summer, and those temperatures are related to the the ocean heatwave.

And if you thought this summer has been hot, it could heat up even more.

“I’m not saying that it will, but if the current event keeps going like it is and follows the track of the last one, the even warmer temperatures will be next year, during the summer,” said Leising.

"The land is quick to heat up, quick to cool down. And the water takes a lot longer to heat up and cool down, especially at depth. So it’s going to take a while before we get out of this heat,' said Chevalier.

There’s one big difference between the current marine heatwave and the last one. In 2015, the hotter water temperatures were recorded down to a depth of 400 feet. This year, the warmer temperatures only go down about 60 feet.

“And so that that means, in a much more practical sense, is that if we get some storms or changes in wind patterns, it’s much easier to mix that warm surface water with he deeper colder water, and dissipate the whole thing,” said Leising.

However, it’s not known exactly how long the current heatwave will last. But scientists are sure that such events will happen more often.

“It’s getting hotter," said Chevalier. “Climatologists. Meterologists. Oceanographers. You know, everyone’s agreeing that it’s getting hotter out there, and it is.” It’s due to climate change, of course.”

“We may even actually have to change the way we calculate and say what is a heat wave, because at some point, with this background warming, eventually everything is going to be warmer than the long-term mean,” said Leising. “Everything all the time will count as a quote-unquote heat wave. So we may have to change even our definition of what a heat wave is.”

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