Warming up to climate change: Why do global sea surface temperatures matter?

Syllabus: GS-III, Subject: Ecology and environment, Topic: Global Warming and Climate Change, Issue: Rise in sea surface temperature

Context: February 2024 recorded the highest average global sea surface temperature (SST) since 1979.

Factors responsible for rise in sea surface temperature

Man made:

  • Burning fossil fuels have released high levels of greenhouse gases(GHGs) into the atmosphere, trapping heat and causing global warming.
  • Nearly 90% of the extra heat trapped by GHGs has been absorbed by the oceans.


  • El Niño: contributed to ocean warming and rising global surface temperatures.
  • Weaker winds over the Sahara Desert have reduced the amount of dust blowing into the Atlantic Ocean, allowing more sunlight to penetrate and heat the ocean.


  • Leads to increased ocean stratification, making it harder for water layers to mix, affecting nutrient distribution and oxygen levels.
  • Threatens marine life survival by affecting nutrient availability, particularly phytoplankton, which forms the base of marine food webs.
  • More frequent and intense marine heatwaves, contributing to coral bleaching, disrupting migration patterns, and affecting aquatic ecosystems.
  • More frequent and intense storms– resulting in heavier rainfall, stronger winds, and increased flooding, posing greater risks to coastal communities.

The way ahead:

To mitigate these consequences, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential.

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