Wrong, Mainstream Media, Florida’s Sea Water Is Not Setting Records

Last week, several media outlets reported on a single seawater temperature of 101.1°F recorded at a buoy in Florida, claiming it was due to climate change. The is false. One single seawater temperature over one day isn’t an indicator of climate change, nor, as the data show, was it unprecedented as media claimed.

Some headlines:

The Guardian opined:

Records for ocean surface temperature are not kept, but a 2020 study suggested that the highest temperature observed was 99.7F (37.61C) in the Persian Gulf.

The growing frequency and intensity of severe weather – both on land and in oceans – is a symptom of the global, human-driven climate crisis that is fueling extremes, experts warn…

In the Associated Press (AP) article, which spawned many of the other articles, there was this statement:

But the buoy at Manatee Bay hit 101.1 degrees Fahrenheit (38.4 degrees Celsius) Monday evening, according to National Weather Service meteorologist George Rizzuto. The night before, that buoy showed an online reading of 100.2 F (37.9 C).

An examination of the actual data from that buoy designated as MNBF1 shows that the peak in temperature of 101.1F (38.4C) was very brief and then the water rapidly cooled off, with such a temperature not being repeated since (see Figure 1 below):

Figure 1 – plot of temperature data from the Manatee Bay (MNBF1) buoy. Image and data from National Data Buoy Center.

However, what the media missed is that MNBF1 is not an ocean buoy at all, in fact it is partially inland, designated as part of the Everglades National Park, and not in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, as seen in this Google Earth image in Figure 2:

Figure 2: Google Earth image showing placement of buoy MNBF1. Note that it is not actually in the Atlantic, but is behind the Key Largo barrier reef, and in a shallow bay called Manatee bay.

On this Google Earth closeup, seen in Figure 3, we can see this buoy is in exceptionally shallow water, near the shoreline – you can see the bottom of the bay.

Figure 3, Google Earth closeup image showing placement of buoy MNBF1 at Bay Point of Manatee bay. Note how shallow the water is, enabling you to see the dark bottom.

One of the most important things that the media missed is the fact that due to the shallow water and placement near land, this buoy is sensitive to tides and wide temperature fluctuations due to the shallow nature of the water. With very shallow water, it is very easy for the sun to heat the sand/mud beneath the buoy, which is dark (which will absorb more sunlight), which will then increase the temperature reading recorded in the water.

Indeed, the high temperature reading correlates closely to low tide. Temperature peaked at 2200 HR GMT – which was after low tide at 1:35PM – water had a chance to warm because sunlight was hitting the bottom.

Figure 4A and 4B: Tide data for Manatee Bay and temperature data and time for buoy MNBF1.

The media completely missed the fact that this sort of temperature at that buoy has happened before and this was not the highest temperature ever seen there. The record for the Manatee Bay site is 102 degrees. It was set on Aug. 15, 2017. The data from that buoy only goes back to 2004. With such a short period of data, it cannot possibly be representative of any climate trend, which requires at least 30 years or more of data.

Figure 5: plot of temperature data from Manatee Bay buoy MNBF1 from 2004 with peak temperatures noted. Note also that in 2009, temperature hit 100°F there. Source: Michael Lowry SFNRC.

Had the media bothered to check, they would have discovered that the buoy is in shallow relatively stagnant water, somewhat inland, and not in the ocean, and therefore not representative of Atlantic Ocean temperatures. They would have also discovered that it was “not a record,” with higher temperatures previously being recorded at that particular buoy. Furthermore, if they had bothered to check tide table, they would have learned that the high temperature correlated with a lower than normal tide, which allowed the subsurface structures heated by the sun to also contribute to heating the water.

Indeed, the water is so shallow where this buoy is placed, it is entirely possible that the buoy itself rests on muddy tidal bottom during extremely low tides.

But they didn’t bother to check. Instead, following the climate crisis narrative they are pushing, they hyped tales of unprecedented ocean temperatures and warned of impending doom.

Meanwhile, as this link to the live data shows, nature has brought the water temperatures back to expected values for this time of year. It is important to note that The Guardian reported, “Normal water temperatures for the area this time of year should be between 73F and 88F (23C and 31C), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”

The “crisis” is over, water temperatures at MNBF1 are back to normal levels, but the incompetent media isn’t reporting on that.

Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.

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  1. The media didn’t miss anything, they reported a single fact that was true – it’s called lying by omission, they do it all the time.


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