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Oceans Are Hotter Than Ever — and a Key Reason for Extreme Weather Patterns

Source: Cheng, L., and Coauthors, 2020: Record-Setting Ocean Warmth Continued in 2019. Adv. Atmos. Sci., 37(2), 137−142, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00376-020-9283-7.

Notes: Vertical section of the ocean temperature trends within 1960 to 2019 from the sea surface to 2000 m (60-year ordinary least-squares linear trend). Shown are the zonal mean sections in each ocean basin organized around the Southern Ocean (south of 60°S) in the center. Black contours show the associated climatological mean temperature with intervals of 2°C (in the Southern Ocean, 1°C intervals are provided in dashed contours). IAP gridded data are used.

Expect more catastrophic fires and devastating hurricanes, scientists warn, as excess heat in the Earth’s oceans continues to disrupt weather patterns. Ocean temperature readings from both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed 2019 to be the warmest on record. 

Scientists look to ocean temperature as a key indicator of global warming, as oceans store 90% of the planet’s excess heat. Not only are ocean surfaces warming, but — as illustrated in the above graphic taken from a recent Advances in Atmospheric Sciences article — heat is penetrating oceanic depths.

The impacts of ocean warming are significant and devastating. Warmer oceans “reduce dissolved oxygen,” harming sea life, while increasing evaporation in the atmosphere, which “nourishes heavy rains and promotes flooding.” The remaining 10% of the Earth’s excess heat manifests in the atmosphere, causing a melting of ice and drying of lands.

“It is one of the key reasons why the Earth has experienced increasing catastrophic fires in the Amazon, California and Australia,” the report says.

Why US Supercities Are Losing Appeal

Source: Milken Institute, 2021

San Francisco, California, lost its place as the best-performing city in the United States, dropping 23 places in rank. It was replaced by Provo, Utah — a relatively new innovation center with a lower cost of living than California’s “supercities.” Intermountain western and southern cities outperformed those originally popular coastal cities, according to Milken Institute

The annual index tracks cities’ regional economies based on job creation, wage growth and high-tech innovation. For the first time, the 2021 criteria also considered broadband access and housing affordability to hold cities accountable to providing a more inclusive economy. 

Shifts to remote work during COVID-19 resulted in U.S. residents relocating away from pricier cities to ones that are more affordable. An Oliver Wyman Forum survey found that 2% of respondents have permanently or temporarily relocated because of COVID-19, while another 14% are planning to relocate or leaning toward doing so. These less-populated cities may be better positioned to prosper after the pandemic, with a higher chance of attracting companies, capital and citizens.

Why the Number of US Homeowners Grew During COVID-19

Source: Pew Research Center

The number of homeowners in the United States grew by 2 million over the last year, reflecting a 2.6% increase. This is the seventh-largest percentage increase in homeowners since 1965, according to Pew Research Center. By the fourth quarter of 2020, there were around 83 million owner-occupied homes in the U.S.

This growth in homeownership, Pew Research Center states, resulted from economic growth and an increasing number of households over time. Although the unemployment rate during COVID-19 skyrocketed, job losses fell heavily on young adults and low-income workers, who are less likely to be potential homebuyers. In 2020, interest rates were at record lows, there was a slowdown in foreclosures and household incomes were at a high before the pandemic — all factors made it easier to enter the housing market. Experts predict that the housing market will remain strong in 2021, driven by low mortgage rates, the vaccine distribution and growing consumer confidence

Global Food Prices Rise, Impacting Food Security

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Global food prices rose for the ninth consecutive month in February, reaching their highest level since July 2014. Food prices increased by 26.5%, compared to the same time just last year. Pandemic-related disruptions to the food and agriculture industry — such as restrictions to global trading and economic distress — contributed to the lower supply of certain foods.  

The FAO Food Price Index — which tracks changes in global food prices — found the biggest increase in the price of sugar — which is up 6.4%, “as production declines in key producing countries together with strong import demand from Asia prompted ongoing concerns over tighter global supplies.” Vegetable oil prices saw the second-highest hike in prices with a 6.2% increase, reflecting concerns about low production, inventory and export potential. 

Food insecurity was growing prior to the pandemic, and estimates show that the virus could almost double the number of people experiencing hunger. International partners and governments are working together to monitor food supply chains and provide financial support for those who are unemployed and are unable to buy food.

Low-Income Households Rank Remote Learning Less Effective Than Other Income Groups

Source: World Economic Forum

By mid-April 2020, 94% of students worldwide were affected by COVID-19. In two surveys of more than 100 countries, online learning platforms were scored 58% fairly effective and 36% very effective. But lower-income households share a different experience: This group is more likely to express that remote learning has not been effective during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The pandemic has prompted educators and students to adapt to new learning methods and technology. But low-income households are less likely to have access to technologies that allow for a sufficient adaptation to remote learning. In response, some education companies are creating learning content that can be accessed on SD cards and 2G and 3G networks. One company distributes donated smart devices for free to children with limited or no access to online education. 

Since reopening, some schools have adopted a hybrid approach to learning — a trend that may continue after the pandemic, as investments in some education technology companies reached into the billions in 2020. 

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