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Why the waters off the west coast of the Galapagos Islands are getting colder

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The world's oceans are warming. But the change is not the same everywhere. And the waters off the west coast of Ecuador's Galapagos Islands are actually getting colder.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And that cool water creates a refuge from climate change for coral reefs, birds and marine animals.

MARTÍNEZ: A researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, says he knows why this region keeps cool.

KRIS KARNAUSKAS: It's called the equatorial undercurrent. And it flows eastward along the Pacific Ocean.

INSKEEP: Kris Karnauskas is an associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic science. He says when that undercurrent hits the islands, it pushes cool, nutrient-rich water to the surface.

KARNAUSKAS: Which is essentially what sustains life in the marine realm.

MARTÍNEZ: Karnauskas and his team analyzed satellite data. They found the water in the area has cooled by about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 40 years.

KARNAUSKAS: That's quite an interesting trend, considering most of the rest of the world ocean is warming.

INSKEEP: And the equatorial undercurrent isn't just cooling.

KARNAUSKAS: It's actually been strengthening. And of course, the longer that holds on, the better for the ecosystem in that region.

MARTÍNEZ: Karnauskas hopes to put off the day when it changes.

KARNAUSKAS: If it's the type of ecosystem that might have a little bit of an extra running start in the fight against climate change, you know, it might hold on longer. It might enable other regions to hold on and to survive. And I would say that it's a candidate for taking an extra close look at trying to really conserve this region.

MARTÍNEZ: Karnauskas hopes that if this area is protected, it could possibly serve as a gene bank to help restore biodiversity in marine ecosystems in other parts of the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF AESUNO AND RELI BEATS' "BASE DE RAP BOOMBAP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.