Oceans heating faster than previously thought


The world's oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought over the last quarter of a century, scientists said Thursday, leaving Earth more sensitive still to the effects of climate change.

According to their most recent assessment this month, scientists from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say the world's oceans have absorbed 90% of the temperature rise caused by man-made carbon emissions.

These gases dissolve in ocean water and the amount that can be absorbed by the ocean depends on its temperature.

Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet deep. "Our data shows that it would have warmed by 6.5ºC every decade since 1991". In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4 degrees Celsius [7.2 degrees Fahrenheit] every decade.

The findings come weeks after a dire report from the United Nations warned that humanity has just over 10 years to act to avoid disastrous levels of global warming, urging governments to make "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society".

The study by Resplandy and fellow scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and Princeton University is significant because it shows the Earth's climate on the whole is probably retaining more heat than previously thought. From this, we can conclude that the Earth is more sensitive to fossil-fuel emissions than anticipated. I mean, it's a peer-reviewed study. If oceans rise faster than forecast, that represents more of an immediate threat to low-lying communities.

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The UN report used the old assumptions for heat absorbed in the ocean, Miller added. If further research corroborates the findings of the latest study, those calculations would need to be redone and the forecast would be more dire.

During this time frame, the researchers calculated that the world's oceans took up more than 13 zettajoules - which is a joule, the standard unit of energy, followed by 21 zeroes. That's believed to be 150 times the amount of energy humans produce as electricity annually, according to the Princeton news release.

Whereas those earlier studies relied on tallying the excess heat produced by known man-made greenhouse gas emissions, a team of US-based scientists focused on two gases found naturally in the atmosphere: oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Both gases are soluble in water, but the rate at which water absorbs them decreases as it warms. This new approach used high-precision oxygen and carbon dioxide measurements to infer ocean temperature increase. This is 60% higher than indicated in previous studies. The study was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Princeton Environmental Institute.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.