AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new study finds that surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico have warmed approximately twice as fast as the global ocean over the last 50 years.

The study, published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate and conducted by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Northern Gulf Institute (NGI), found “significant warming” of the Gulf’s sea surface temperature — a 1.8°F jump between 1970-2020. This works out to 0.34°F of warming per decade, equating to roughly twice the rate of warming observed in the global ocean as a whole.

Researchers found warming at all depths of the Gulf of Mexico, from the sea surface to the ocean floor, but the greatest warming was observed in the upper 50 meters of the ocean.

In the study, NOAA and NGI scientists analyzed 192,890 temperature profiles collected in the Gulf of Mexico between 1950-2020 by gliders, Argo floats, and Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) meters.

Why this is important

The global ocean stores tremendous amounts of heat, and that heat storage is increasing as the climate warms. In fact, just the top few meters of global ocean depth store as much heat as the Earth’s entire atmosphere.

Warmer waters in the Gulf lead to:

  • Greater sea level rise through thermal expansion
  • Larger “dead zones” for fish and wildlife, where waters become hypoxic
  • More intense hurricanes

Warmer Gulf waters also lead to warmer nighttime temperatures in the Austin area — especially during the summer when prevailing winds are from the southeast.