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Warming of the Indian Ocean


While India may currently be experiencing heatwaves, the potential prospect of a generous monsoon, as anticipated by the India Meteorological Department, might offer some psychological relief. However, looking ahead, there are significant concerns as per a recent study from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.


GS3- Climate Change

Mains Question:

Examine the rate at which the Indian Ocean has shown a higher degree of warming over the years. What are concerns associated with this warming and how can the littoral countries come together to counter the rising temperature? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

More on the Studies:

The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, alongside other international institutions, has projected the probable effects on the Indian Ocean, based on anticipated global carbon emission patterns.

Marine Heatwaves:

  • According to their findings, the Indian Ocean has already warmed by 1.2°C and is expected to further warm by 1.7°C to 3.8°C between 2020 and 2100.
  • While heatwaves are a familiar occurrence, the study cautions against the emergence of ‘marine heatwaves,’ their oceanic counterparts, which are associated with the rapid formation of cyclones.
  • Marine Heatwaves refer to extended periods characterized by unusually high Sea Surface Temperature (SST), which can have detrimental effects on marine ecosystems.
  • These events are associated with coral bleaching, destruction of seagrass, and the loss of kelp forests, leading to negative impacts on the fisheries sector.
  • Various factors contribute to the occurrence of marine heatwaves, with ocean currents playing a significant role in accumulating warm water in specific areas.
  • Additionally, air-sea heat flux, involving the transfer of heat between the ocean surface and the atmosphere, can contribute to warming.
  • Winds can either intensify or mitigate the effects of marine heatwaves, while climate phenomena such as El Niño can influence the likelihood of these events in specific regions.
  • These events are predicted to increase dramatically, potentially escalating from the current average of 20 days per year to 220–250 days per year.
  • Such a scenario could push the tropical Indian Ocean into a state of “near-permanent heatwave,” leading to accelerated coral bleaching and detrimental impacts on the fisheries sector.

Heating in Depths:

  • Furthermore, the ocean’s heating is not limited to the surface but extends throughout its depths.
  • The study reveals that the ocean’s thermal capacity, measured from the surface to 2,000 meters below, is currently increasing at a rate of 4.5 zetta-joules per decade.
  • This rate is projected to escalate to 16–22 zetta-joules per decade in the future. For perspective, a joule is a unit of energy, and 1 zetta joule equals a billion-trillion joules (10^21).

Impact of a Warming Indian Ocean:

  • The effects of a warming Indian Ocean have profound implications for mainland India, manifested in the increased frequency of severe cyclones and a more erratic monsoon pattern.
  • This shift is characterized by prolonged periods of drought followed by intense rainfall and subsequent flooding.
  • These phenomena are closely linked to global warming, with human activities such as fossil fuel combustion significantly contributing to pushing the planet toward critical tipping points.
  • Existing global commitments to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions are unlikely to substantially alleviate the ocean’s condition, as marine systems respond more gradually to external influences compared to terrestrial environments.
  • Therefore, a pragmatic approach involves refining our understanding of the local impacts of the Indian Ocean.


India should foster collaborative partnerships with neighboring countries bordering the Indian Ocean to enhance data collection and forecasting capabilities. Presently, these efforts pale in comparison to those in the Pacific region. Strengthening these collaborations will facilitate informed decision-making regarding infrastructure development and the protection of communities vulnerable to oceanic changes.

May 2024