Report finds Mediterranean getting hotter, more acidic, and sea levels are rising

Israeli government study also finds ‘alarming upward trend’ in mercury contamination in northern part of Haifa Bay

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Taking underwater measurements in the Mediterranean Sea. (Shay Zilberman, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute)
Taking underwater measurements in the Mediterranean Sea. (Shay Zilberman, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute)

The Mediterranean Sea is experiencing higher temperatures and acidity, rising sea levels, and pollution by plastic and even mercury according to a report published Monday.

The report is based on the latest in a series of scientific voyages carried out by the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute to monitor changes in the sea and the effects of marine infrastructure on the continental shelf along Israel’s coast.

The upper layer of the Mediterranean Sea continues to warm by about 0.13 degrees Celsius per year (0.23 degrees Fahrenheit) as a result of global warming, the report said. This exceeds the 0.055 degrees Celsius (0.099 degrees Fahrenheit) annual rate predicted by the World Climate Organization.

The report explained that the faster pace of warming in the Mediterranean is due to it being a small body of water compared to the oceans. (The southeastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, which borders Israel, is the hottest and most saline because water from the Atlantic Ocean has ample time to heat up as it covers the distance from the Straits of Gibraltar in the west to Israel in the east).

Between 1992 and 2022, the Mediterranean Sea rose by about 14.59 centimeters (5.7 inches). A global rise in sea level is caused by the warming and expanding of seawater and the melting of glaciers, which also affects the Mediterranean Sea.

Taking measurements aboard a research vessel in the Mediterranean Sea. (Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute)

The trend of seawater acidification has continued slowly, the report goes on, at 0.003 on the pH scale per year. This is due to penetration into the water of increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the air. The trend affects a variety of biological processes in the sea, the report said. Ocean acidification is known to create conditions that eat away at the minerals used by coral reefs and shellfish to build their skeletons and shells.

The report, issued by the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, together with the Energy and Environmental Protection ministries, found that most of the indicators of sea pollution have remained stable, compared with previous years. But it noted an “alarming upward trend” in mercury contamination in the northern part of Haifa Bay.

Taking underwater measurements in the Mediterranean Sea. (Shay Zilberman, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute)

In the Gulf of Acre and the Naaman Stream nearby, mercury concentrations higher than the standard for food safety were measured. These come from the groundwater beneath an abandoned factory site which is slated for restoration, but where groundwater rehabilitation has not yet been carried out.

The report’s findings were based on measurements and samples collected during 2022. The findings were analyzed and compiled during the first half of 2023. They were reviewed by an expert advisory committee in July 2023 and by an inter-ministerial steering committee in December 2023.

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