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Mega marine heatwaves: a conversation with oceanographer Thomas Frölicher

Thomas Frölicher, from the University of Bern, Switzerland

In the latest episode of the AtlantECO Podcast, we delve into the critical topic of mega heatwaves in the Atlantic with guest Thomas Frölicher. The conversation covers the causes, consequences, monitoring, and future expectations of these increasingly observed phenomena, including the recent heatwave observed in the North Atlantic.

Thomas Frölicher, shares his journey into oceanography. Growing up with a curious mind inspired by his father's interest in physics, Thomas eventually found his passion for environmental science. His focus on atmospheric physics led him to explore oceanography during his PhD, where he investigated the variations in oceanic oxygen concentration and its connection to human-caused global warming.

Discussing marine heatwaves, defined as periods of persistently warm ocean temperatures, Thomas explains that these events are becoming more prevalent globally, affecting ecosystems, weather patterns, and land conditions. The North Atlantic, in particular, is experiencing mega heatwaves, with temperatures significantly higher than ever recorded. Thomas discusses potential causes of marine heatwaves, such as enhanced air-sea heat uptake, changing ocean currents, and various other factors. The global ocean currently faces record-high temperatures, with about 30% experiencing a marine heatwave. The North Atlantic stands out with temperatures 0.5 degrees higher than previous records, raising concerns among scientists.

Graphs showing extreme high sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic. Source: T. Frölicher.

To understand these heat waves, scientists rely on high-temporal-resolution datasets from satellites, ARGO floats, buoys, and ocean models. Thomas emphasises the importance of collaboration among researchers with diverse expertise to comprehensively analyse the multitude of factors contributing to the current temperature anomalies. Talking about the consequences of mega heat waves on marine life and ecosystems, Thomas highlights the sensitivity of ecosystems to high temperatures, leading to damages worth billions of dollars in industries such as fisheries and tourism. In AtlantECO project, Thomas and his team aim to assess the impact of a combination of multiple extreme events in the Atlantic, providing valuable data for managing ocean resources and mitigating risks.

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