Extreme weather underwater

Summer 2017 has been one heck of a hurricane season. Extreme weather like this is driven in part by climate phenomena (means what it sounds like!). Many are probably pretty familiar with El Ñino, and maybe less familiar with its cooler counterpart, La Ñina. The oscillation, or flip-flopping between these two and a third, neutral phase can affect the frequency and severity of hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It also has broad impacts on weather patterns around the globe.

We know the kind of damage extreme weather can wreak on land. But what about life underwater? Sure, it doesn’t rain down there, but changes in temperature can affect water currents and the geographic distribution of marine life. El Ñino and La Ñina are naturally occurring climate changes that cycle kind of randomly. Human-driven climate change, on the other hand, puts us on the fast track towards irreparably warmer oceans, with consequences for ecosystems both above and below the water. And, hitching a ride with climate change is the potential for more extreme weather headed our way.

To see how animals deal with changing oceans, a new study followed an Australian population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) over a period of 6 years. The collection of long-term ecological data like this, to understand how animals are affected by global climate phenomena, will undoubtedly be valuable for maintaining healthy oceans in the near future.

This neat gif provided by the authors shows the changes in ocean surface temperatures where these dolphins live in the Pacific. The grey blob is Australia’s west coast, and the y axis is the change in sea surface temperature (SST). The full study can be found in Global Change Biology ($): El Niño Southern Oscillation influences the abundance and movements of a marine top predator in coastal waters.

For those of you without access, check out this blog post from the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit (MUCRU), or this article in The Conversation for more detailed info!

Water temperature anomaly

More on El Ñino/La Ñina weather patterns: What is the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in a nutshell? (from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA))

Infographic PDF available here.elninodolphin

P.S. This is another awesome bit of dolphin research from MUCRU. One of our previous infographics (about dolphins eating octopus snacks) was also based on a study from this group.

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