• Geetika Ahuja

Indian Ocean Breaks Records as the Hottest Ocean

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Making it to the Guinness World Records has always been a very exciting event. Who doesn’t love to hear about tales of record-breaking activities? But when it comes to our environment are we as excited about breaking a record?

I am sure many of us love the water. We love spending time at the beach building pretty sandcastles and playing in the murky water, watching our stress flow away as the tides come in and go. Here is a thought, have you noticed anything different about beaches and oceans lately? I am sure, even the ones living in India and were subjected to the devasting supercyclones earlier this year didn't. India has already issued warnings for another supercyclone which is headed from the south (Indian Ocean) this week. And yet, I can make a guarantee 90% of us didn't even try to understand what a super cyclone is or why is India being subjected to so many super cyclones this year. Well, the difference is, the increasing temperatures of the oceans and beachsides. I am a huge beach person. One morning in the middle of my yoga session I fainted, don't feel bad for me. Turns out I had a vitamin – sea deficiency. (See what I did there)

I decided to understand further what that meant. In a study about the temperature differences amongst the seven oceans of the world, I came across the Indian Ocean that has been termed as the warmest surface temperature of all the world. Being the fourth-largest ocean, it covers about 20% of the Earth’s surface with various oceanic divisions.

And as predicted, as per the recent scientific research global heating is accelerating the rate of ocean warming, which has led to a rapid increase in the number of cyclones and intensified the weak storms.

I mentioned a little earlier that the Indian Ocean has recorded the warmest surface temperature- so what does that mean, and what does that mean for everything that depends on the ocean?

The Sea Surface Temperature or otherwise SST refers to the temperature close to the surface of the ocean, the depth of the surface would depend on the method that is being used to measure the temperatures but it can differ from anywhere between 1 millimeter to 20 meters below the surface. Which begs the question, what does it matter?

The shorter version to that answer is it affects the distribution of marine life, which in turn affects the capability of seas to help provide a livable atmosphere for humans. The least scary outcome of these changes is the supercyclones and weak storms.

Fact Bucket:

The Bay of Bengal in the East Indian Ocean has a permanent temperature above 28 Degree Celsius (28°C), which has resulted in 350 cyclones over a period from 1891 to 2000. At the same time the Arabian Sea, which is part of the West Indian Ocean has a surface temperature below 28°C and has recorded over 93 cyclones.

According to the Tropical Meteorology report, the temperatures are to rise by 2.7°C by 2040 and 4.4°C by the end of the century.

Unfortunately, the Indian Ocean breaking the records of being the hottest here is not a compliment. As per the records by NASA this last decade was the hottest one yet.

Speaking of records, we have managed to set a new heat benchmark- the city of Phalodi in northwest India has recorded a temperature of 51°C. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has declared this to be the highest temperature after 1886 which was 50.6°C.

Indian Ocean Dipole:

The difference in the sea-surface temperatures in the opposite parts of the Indian Ocean is known as the Indian Ocean Dipole. This means one side of the Indian Ocean is warm and the other is cold, much like a Bipolar human. There has been an unusually strong positive dipole this year that has resulted in droughts in Australia and South – East Asia as well as higher than average rainfall and floods in eastern Africa.

A negative dipole brings the opposite conditions which are greater perspiration and warmer water in the eastern Indian Ocean, and drier and cooler conditions in the west.

Did you know that rising temperatures in the water bodies have led to bushfires in Australia and floods in eastern Africa? Curious to know how?

The record-breaking (another record broken, coincidence? I think not) spring temperatures have sparked up a series of bushfires across the country. In the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) about 100 bushfires have raged while the most severe one formed a ‘mega blaze’ in the north of Sydney.

According to a study published in ‘Nature’ around 2014, scientists have claimed that the frequency of extreme positive dipole events would increase from one every 17.3 years to 6.3 years. To the west of the Indian Ocean, we are going to see heavier rainfalls, floods, and much more relating to these events. This will harm the crops and a lot of damage will be caused to the infrastructure. Whereas, to the east, there will be a greater chance of drought and less rainfall, and sometimes bushfires.

Effects and Efforts:

"The amount of heat we have put in the world’s oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions."

- Lijing Cheng, an associate professor, CAS

Lijing Cheng is an associate professor with the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

We humans might not take this issue seriously yet but the ill effects caused by the ‘hot temperatures’ is going to take longer to bounce back than the land and atmosphere which has absorbed only around 4% of heat while a good 90% of the excess heat has been absorbed by the oceans.

The cyclone trends will continue to rise if the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions are not curbed down. Increased Global Warming caused by GHG emissions has been a prevailing challenge for India.

The first step taken towards climate resilience is to replicate efforts like installing an early warning system. One such experiment was conducted in Mumbai where a flood warning system took typography, water bodies, the city’s drainage, rainfall, and tidal levels into consideration and warns about the probability and extent of floods in different areas of the city. Well, it’s really interesting to hear about the efforts put in by Mumbai, which is extremely famous for its rainy weather.

This is being done by the government and as always we at Khakhed, believe that even here, we have a prominent role in helping our planet recover. Some of them would include:

  • Supporting candidates that take the environment and its damage seriously. Helping our policymakers and representatives to take steps towards Net-Zero.

  • Reducing the use of cars, air conditioners, and being mindful of our resources.

  • Making sure to reuse, reduce, repurpose and recycle what we can, thereby reducing the amount of waste that can end up in the landfills.

  • Investing time in activities such as beach cleanups and trail clean-ups.

  • Investing money in companies that are making a positive contribution to society by finding clean energy sources or harvesting clean energy.

Most of us enjoy watching the raindrops falling from the sky, sitting in our balconies or window sills with a steaming hot cup of tea and vegetable koftas. (Also known as pakoras). But, it does not have the same ring to it when it turns into floods and washes away our cities.

Hence, studying the climate, its impact, and changes are necessary. But, more important, is the decisions we take. Ignorance is bliss, yes, but not when we have only one planet to live on. Saving our homes is not just our governments' and our scientists' headache. It is all of ours, together. We as individuals need to take small precautions and put a stop to the intensifying heat.

While we rectify the damage our ancestors caused, we are still going to be facing cyclones, earthquakes, and the likes. So to equip ourselves better with the safety protocols and what to do in such situations we have a new and exciting new podcast series releasing soon called "The Survival of the Smartest."- This podcast deals with everything right from snake bites and shark attacks to thunder and tsunamis. So make sure to catch us on the podcast The Wilderness Live this October on www.thewildernesslive.com or follow our Instagram for some quick tips.


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