Red Sea Warming Faster Than Global Average

Even the hardy corals reef of Eilat could be in trouble if water temperatures increase, Saudi research paper indicates

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Coral reefs off Eilat
Coral reefs off EilatCredit: Amir Stern
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

The Red Sea is warming faster than the average for the world's oceans, a team of Saudi scientists has reported. Their finding is likely to have implications for life in the Red Sea, including Israel’s only coral reef off the resort city of Eilat.

Based on general data from 1982 to 2015, the Red Sea warmed by 0.17 degrees Celsius per decade, which may not sound like a lot, but if the trend continues, its waters could warm by as much as 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100, which would have a dire effect on marine life.

And that’s the whole of the Red Sea. As measured by satellite, the sea’s northern part, which includes Israeli waters, was found to have warmed even more — by 0.4 to 0.45 degrees Celsius per decade.

The Red Sea has already been warming for decades, in keeping with the global trend. Marine life may already be existing on the high end of their thermal tolerance, the team of authors led by Veronica Chaidez of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology wrote.

Ocean surfaces have warmed by 0.11degrees Celsius per decade over the last 50 years. Climate change scientists forecast further warming by anywhere from 0.6 to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. That’s if the trajectory of global warming doesn’t rise even more steeply.

The warming of the world’s waters has been definitely proven. In fact, when people speak of “global warming,” what they really mean is “ocean warming”. Only some 10 percent of the global energy imbalance caused by human activity is warming the air, land and melting the ice. Some 90 percent goes into ocean heat, scientists have calculated. And the Red Sea now turns out to be heating up faster than the world's oceans.

In June, Israeli scientists reported that the Red Sea corals in the Gulf of Aqaba, off Eilat, are oddly resistant to global warming. They predicted that the Eilat reefs could be left to become the last reef in the world, as their cousins elsewhere bleach, crumble and die. That is, unless pollution kills them first. It bears noting that when Eilat corals were placed under heat stress in laboratory conditions, they actually fared well, but an “average increase” of 2 degrees means spikes much higher and even the Eilat corals must have their own limits.

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