Global seasonal forecasts of marine heatwaves

Publication date
April 20, 2022
Jacox, M. G., Alexander, M. A., Amaya, D., Becker, E., Bograd, S. J., Brodie, S., Hazen, E. L., Pozo Buil, M., & Tommasi, D.
Marine heatwaves (MHWs)—periods of exceptionally warm ocean temperature lasting weeks to years—are now widely recognized for their capacity to disrupt marine ecosystems1,2,3. The substantial ecological and socioeconomic impacts of these extreme events present significant challenges to marine resource managers4,5,6,7, who would benefit from forewarning of MHWs to facilitate proactive decision-making8,9,10,11. However, despite extensive research into the physical drivers of MHWs11,12, there has been no comprehensive global assessment of our ability to predict these events. Here we use a large multimodel ensemble of global climate forecasts13,14 to develop and assess MHW forecasts that cover the world’s oceans with lead times of up to a year. Using 30 years of retrospective forecasts, we show that the onset, intensity and duration of MHWs are often predictable, with skilful forecasts possible from 1 to 12 months in advance depending on region, season and the state of large-scale climate modes, such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation. We discuss considerations for setting decision thresholds based on the probability that a MHW will occur, empowering stakeholders to take appropriate actions based on their risk profile. These results highlight the potential for operational MHW forecasts, analogous to forecasts of extreme weather phenomena, to promote climate resilience in global marine ecosystems.