Florida documents ocean temperature of around 101 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a record

July 26, 2023: On Monday, Florida showed an ocean temperature reading of over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, the latest sign of record heat in the coastal waters.

The National Data Buoy Center, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration division, recorded the temperature about five feet below the surface of South Florida’s East Coast at 10 p.m. ET.

It’s a critically hot reading for an ocean and is especially concerning for the coral reefs in the region, which typically thrive at temperatures between 73 and 84 degrees, according to NOAA. And while it may be an all-time high, the comparison to other top tasks is tricky because of how it was recorded.

The record for the hottest sea surface temperature is reportedly 99.7, reached in Kuwait Bay in the Persian Gulf. Jeff Berardelli, Florida WFLA News Channel 8′s chief meteorologist and climate specialist, said it’s unclear if the latest reading will be counted as a world record.

“These buoys inside Florida Bay, north of the Florida Keys and the South Florida peninsula, are all in very superficial, murky, dark water,” Berardelli said. “Because it’s murky and contaminated with sediment, the water temperatures reflect that darker surfaces absorb more heat.”

Berardelli said the area’s unique qualities mean that “it’s not comparable to most water measurements, which are in more clear water that may have a little bit better water movement like tidal movement.”

Complicating matters further, he said, “No official records are kept on water temperature.” A spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization declared that the group’s Weather and Climate Extremes archive doesn’t currently track sea surface temperatures.

Regardless, readings in South Florida have been extreme. Berardelli said two other sites in the Florida Keys had recent temperatures of 98 or higher, “which substantiates the fact that this sensor was likely either correct or it was off by a degree, but even if it’s off by a degree, it’s still close to a world record.”

The heat, which has infiltrated Florida’s ocean waters for the past several weeks, presents major environmental concerns, said Phanor Montoya Maya, a marine biologist and the restoration program manager for the non-profit Coral Restoration Foundation.  

“If water temperatures remain above 84 Fahrenheit for a significant period, corals will begin to experience stress and will begin to bleach,” robbing them of the nourishment they need to survive, Maya said in an emailed statement.

While corals can heal from bleaching, for that to happen, they need ocean temperatures to produce to normal levels.

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