The Ocean Is Losing Its Memory. That's Not a Good Thing

It is fading away.

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.”

Those were the words of Galadriel in the Fellowship of the Ring. “Much that once was is now lost, and none now live who remember,” she adds. 

We can’t help but evoke Galadriel’s prologue especially after scientists publish a chilling new paper that asserts how ocean memory is fading away. 

What is Ocean Memory? 

In scientific terms, ocean memory is the persistence of ocean conditions, such as temperature, sea levels, and currents, which are major factors that scientists use to pattern climate, and hence, predict it. 

Sadly, this ocean memory that humans have relied on for centuries to predict weather, navigate the oceans and skies, and calendar the planting of crops, is slowly fading away. 

“We show that ocean memory, as measured by the year-to-year persistence of sea surface temperature anomalies, is projected to steadily decline in the coming decades over much of the globe,” the scientists wrote in their paper. 

“Reduced ocean memory results in shorter lead times of skillful persistence-based predictions of sea surface thermal conditions, which may present previously unknown challenges for predicting climate extremes and managing marine biological resources under climate change.”

According to the scientists, greenhouse gas concentrations contribute to ocean memory loss.

Under the current trends, there would very likely be a historically unprecedented reduction in global ocean memory by the end of the 21st century,” they wrote. 

Ocean Memory Loss and Its Effects on Various Species

According to the authors of the research, the biological implications of changes in ocean memory are more uncertain, but consequential impacts on populations are likely.


For example, by means of natural selection, species may change their reproductive behavior to adapt to the changing variables in ocean memory. A major species that will be affected are fish, particularly those caught for commercial purposes. 

This will affect not only the global fishing industry but also various cultures that depend on the sea for sustenance. 

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