An uncommon and potentially destructive climate event has triggered soaring temperatures within the oceans off the Western Australian coast.
It’s partially reduced to a La Nina climate driver though it’s delivering a different effect in parts lying between western and eastern Australia.
According to climate scientists, we can expect a rapidly “growing risk” in future caused by Ningaloo Ninos considering that they can damage marine and coral species and bring hot air inland.
Apparently, the La Nina climate driver has delivered cooler temperatures and more moisture to eastern parts of the Australian coast this summer.
However, Western Australia never experiences its effects. Certainly, the smouldering heat has become the hallmark of the west during this year’s summer weather.
Perth has recorded a series of scorching heatwaves. During the New Year period, the city witnessed 13 days continuous of temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.
In December, maximum temperatures that lingered above 40 degrees Celsius were recorded for three straight days.
The waters off Western Australia recently experienced a heatwave of its kind. In a report, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the sea surface temperatures off Western Australia’s northwest coast grew 2.5C warmer than average and 3 degrees higher in the waters off the central parts of WA.
The blame partially lies on La Nina. Notably, the effect is being felt far and wide from the Pacific which is considered the stomping ground for the climate driver.
The La Nina forms part of the three stages of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with the other stages being neutral and El Nino.
The ENSO is simply the measure of sea surface temperatures and winds within the Pacific Ocean. A La Nina is brought about by cooler waters within the eastern and central equatorial Pacific being thrust onto the surface as powerful winds move warmer oceans to the Australian coast.
This plays a great role in forming clouds and as a result more moisture and windy conditions in the eastern parts of the continent.
However, raised sea levels owing to La Nina have triggered warmer waters to leave the east during the summer period, and form a beeline in the continent’s west.
Process of Forming the NINGALOO NINO
It starts by flowing through the Indonesian archipelago gaps before heading down to Western Australia’s coast.
Elsewhere, along the Ningaloo Coast on the outskirts of Exmouth town currently listed by the UNESCO world heritage, the waters bumped into the Leeuwin Current. Together, the duo has been causing maritime havoc.
The Leeuwin Current got its name from Cape Leeuwin—the far most south westerly point in Australia’s mainland, situated approximately 50km south of Margaret River.
This current moves the Indian Ocean’s waters down to Western Australia’s coast where it’s swerved around the cape, affecting sea surface temperatures in various parts of the far east including Tasmania.
Most marine species catch rides on the Leeuwin Current moving through the Great Australian Bight. In fact, whale sharks have become commonplace in the Ningaloo Reef around Exmouth in WA.
Already, the warm La Nina waters have turbocharged the current during this year’s summer, increasing ocean temperatures and developing a marine heatwave.
Marine heatwaves are defined as sea surface temperatures considered warmer than the long-term average of a span of five days.
These specific heatwaves are mostly referred to as ‘Ningaloo Ninos’. This nickname describes where the heatwaves always develop and the fact that their heating effect is more similar to that of an El Nino than of a La Nina.
This heating effect can be fuelled by other factors present in Western Australia such as the fallen sea breezes.
According to the weather Bureau, the last time marine heatwaves were experienced off the WA coast was in 2012-2013, and earlier in 2011-2012.
Of course, 2011 was a catastrophe of the Ningaloo Nino with temperatures rocketing 5 degrees above average.
That was bad news for the Ningaloo Reef which experienced severe coral bleaching within the warmer waters; the first, worse bleaching ever recorded.
Sometimes the fisheries that grow smaller in maritime heatwaves and seagrasses eventually die.
All Ningaloo Ninos are synonymous with one thing; they coincide with a La Nina.
A report published by the Monash University Climate Change Communications Research Hub confirmed that there was a “growing risk” of frequent marine heatwaves given the ever increasing overall temperature patterns.
“The observations show us that, over the past 40 years, waters around the Ningaloo Reef have warmed much faster than most other surrounding Australian waters in summer”, said Monash Associate Professor David Holmes.
“Climate projections suggest that more frequent and intense marine heatwaves can be expected in the future.”
The La Nina climate driver has gone beyond its peak, according to meteorologists, and the ENSO might well roll back into its neutral conditions by May.
But most certainly, its effects will continuously be felt in coming months.
That means continued rainfall over the east coast as the rare Ningaloo Nino lingers on for a while in the west.
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