Cold ocean waters creating quite a stir

If you have spent any time at all visiting the shores of New Jersey or New York this summer, you’ve probably left with one thing on your mind: that water was entirely too cold! The bad news is, it’s not all in your head. The waters are actually cold — and colder than normal for this time of year on a local scale. The good news is that a changing pattern will help to warm the waters with time over the next few weeks. The question that remains, though, is: What is causing the uncomfortably cold ocean waters?

The answer: Upwelling. Sounds complicated, but it actually is a fairly simple process. Winds that blow across the oceans surface push the top layer of warming water away. The water then rises up from beneath the surface to replace the water that was pushed or “blown” away by the winds. The waters below are typically much cooler, and so the water that rise to the surface is chilly. Upwelling events over the past few weeks along the shores of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey have left beachgoers shivering.

Regional Sea Surface Temperature data shows a local pocket of cooler waters, owing to upwelling which has occurred along the areas shoreline.

Regional Sea Surface Temperature data shows a local pocket of cooler waters, owing to upwelling which has occurred along the areas shoreline.

A glance at the regional or local sea surface temperatures reveals the upwelling which has occurred near and long the Mid-Atlantic coasts. There are various things at play on the above sea surface temperature map. You can see warm ocean waters along the Gulf Stream (bottom right), cooler waters in the Northwest Atlantic near New England, and the local upwelling events keeping the waters cooler than surrounding areas. The Atlantic as a whole is running above average — with our cool waters classified as a very localized event.

Over the next few days, a more onshore flow is forecast to develop. This is important, as the changing wind direction will help to moderate the water temperatures — albeit slowly. Those of you headed to the beach over the next week or two should certainly take that as welcomed news.

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