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Environment & Science

4 things we know from 100 years of measuring ocean temperature and salinity

In August 2016, Scripps Institute of Oceanography marked 100 years of daily measurements of ocean temperature and salinity off the Scripps Pier.
In August 2016, Scripps Institute of Oceanography marked 100 years of daily measurements of ocean temperature and salinity off the Scripps Pier.
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At UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, researchers have had a front-row seat for climate change for a century.

Every single day for one hundred years, the ocean temperature and salinity has been measured and recorded from the end of the Scripps Pier.

No breaks. Even New Year's Day and Christmas morning.

It's created a pretty remarkable set of data that can tell us about our ocean, sea life, and even the air we breathe.

Melissa Carter started out as a volunteer in 1999, actually measuring the data, and now she oversees the program. A Martinez talked to Carter about what the data tells us about the ocean and its inhabitants.

  1. "The ocean is warming. There was a big shift in the late '70s where we saw warming occur and we have seen that warming trend continue." Over the past century, the ocean has warmed 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. "The last two years have been the warmest on record."
  3. It's hurting the base of the ocean food chain. "The most important things that we're seeing at Scripps Pier and in Southern California is that with, especially the last two years of warming that have been the most drastic on record, ...we have lost about fifty percent of our phytoplankton. Those are the microscopic organisms that are in the sun-lit portion of the water. With the loss of phytoplankton, that's the base of the food chain. You can expect to see other trophic changes. It can be a cascading effect that works its way up the food chain.
  4. A warm ocean has a huge effect on the air we breathe. "We learned as kids that trees are responsible for providing the air that we breathe. Actually, phytoplankton are just as important for creating that oxygen. This is really critical when it comes to understanding the carbon cycle because phytoplankton are expected to be absorbing this extra co2 we're pumping int o the atmosphere through our cars and through other means, but if the phytoplankton aren't there, they're not going to be uptaking the CO2 and that won't be happening. ...Warm water is less able to take up CO2 so it can be a double whammy that can happen with a warmer ocean. The sun lit portion is very warm and then you have the bottom layer that has cold nutrient-rich waters, so as you have more and more warming, you have this greater depth of warm stratified waters that are separate from the nutrient-rich bottom waters...then you don't have mixing that's going to introduce nutrients and allow the phytoplankton to grow."

To hear the full interview, click the blue audio player above.