By: April Carson
For years, climate models have consistently foreseen that as greenhouse gas emissions increase, the temperature of ocean waters would also rise. And indeed, for the most part, these predictions have proven to be accurate. However, in a particular stretch of the Pacific Ocean, an intriguing anomaly is occurring.
Extending westward from the Ecuadorian coast for thousands of kilometers, a remarkable stretch of cool water has defied our predictions for the past three decades. This enigmatic phenomenon, known as the "cold tongue," captivates us with its mystery and leaves us questioning our understanding of the Eastern Pacific.
To better comprehend this perplexing cool zone, a series of research expeditions have been conducted over the past few years. By combining satellite data with field observations, scientists are striving to uncover what has caused and maintained the cold tongue for such an extended period.
This goes beyond being a mere academic puzzle. According to Pedro DiNezio from the University of Colorado Boulder, it stands as the "most crucial enigma in climate science". The challenge lies in the fact that the absence of understanding the cause behind this cooling phenomenon also leaves us uncertain about its duration and the possibility of an abrupt shift towards warming.
The impact of this phenomenon is far-reaching. The fate of the cold tongue holds the key to whether California will be plagued by persistent drought or Australia by increasingly devastating wildfires. It directly influences the intensity of India's monsoon season and the likelihood of famine in the Horn of Africa. Moreover, it has the potential to significantly shape the global climate change scenario by affecting the sensitivity of Earth's atmosphere to the escalating emissions of greenhouse gases.
We invite you to join us in exploring this enigma and gaining further insight into its diversified implications. Join our expedition for a chance to personally experience the cold tongue, take part in gathering field observations, and discuss ideas with an interdisciplinary team of experts.
With all of this in mind, it is unsurprising that climate scientists are diligently working to decipher the growing urgency surrounding this phenomenon. This narrative, akin to a captivating mystery, is brimming with intrigue, complexity, and contrasting theories. Although we haven't quite unraveled its secrets just yet, simply acknowledging its existence will empower us to prepare for a future in which the Pacific Ocean's cold tongue undergoes unexpected transformations.
The first hint that the eastern Pacific was cooling down emerged in the 1980s. The evidence came from ships and buoys measuring ocean temperature, and it showed something strange: temperatures in the equatorial Pacific were dropping by up to half a degree Celsius over several decades. This was odd compared with the rest of the ocean, which was warming as expected.
What had changed? One obvious candidate was the climate itself—perhaps a natural cooling mechanism had kicked in to dampen down global warming. But why were temperatures dropping only in this part of the Pacific? Could something else be at play?
The answer might lie with the winds that blow across the ocean. In this part of the world, two bands of prevailing wind converge in an area called the equatorial convergence zone (ECZ). This is where two opposing air masses meet, creating a high-pressure region—the cold tongue, so named because it looks like a large area of water cooler than its surroundings. "It's like a big wall of cool water," says DiNezio.
It was the ECZ and its winds that were causing the cooling in the Pacific Ocean. The winds began to blow more strongly towards the end of the 20th century, dragging cooler water up from depths of a kilometer or more and pushing it across the ocean’s surface like an immense conveyor belt. This process is known as upwelling, and it chills down the surface layer of water, cooling vast regions of the ocean.
So what we have here is an example of how nature can intervene to counter climate change—at least for now. But that doesn’t mean it will stay this way forever. Some scientists believe that we could be approaching a tipping point where the cold tongue changes from being a force for cooling, to becoming a powerful driver of global warming.
This could potentially have devastating consequences. The Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest store of heat, and if its cool tongue were to switch from cooling to warming it could cause temperatures across the globe to rise faster than ever before. It is an ominous thought that underscores the importance of understanding the forces that drive the mysterious cold tongue.
For now, its cooling effect is still at work. But we must constantly keep an eye on this region and continue to study it in detail if we are to truly understand its power—and prevent a future where the Pacific Ocean’s cold tongue unleashes far-reaching climate chaos.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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