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Warmer Water Temperatures

As average air temperatures rise, so do the average temperatures of our oceans, lakes and rivers. Open water — which is directly exposed to sunlight — is most dramatically affected.

Already, water temperatures have risen enough to affect aquatic habitats and cause some species to migrate into cooler water. By some estimates, coldwater fish in North America — salmon and trout, for example — could lose as much as half their suitable habitat if average global temperatures increase by 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Are the Impacts of Warmer Water?

Warmer water affects many things:

  • Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water. As temperatures rise, the oxygen concentration of water declines.
  • Corals are sensitive to temperature increases. Warmer-than-average waters increase the likelihood that coral reefs will suffer bleaching events.
  • Hurricanes rely on warm water for fuel. A warmer Atlantic Ocean may lead to stronger or more frequent hurricanes.
  • Invasive species and diseases are able to extend their ranges into new territories.
  • Algal blooms may begin earlier in the season, and last longer into the fall.

Rising water temperatures are also a trigger for many other climate change impacts, such as:

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