Oceans heating faster than previously thought

Dogtooth tuna

Dogtooth tuna

Scientists know that the ocean takes up roughly 90 percent of all the excess energy produced as the Earth warms, so knowing the actual amount of energy makes it possible to estimate the surface warming we can expect, said co-author Ralph Keeling, a Scripps Oceanography geophysicist and Resplandy's former postdoctoral adviser. Previous estimates suggested that these huge bodies of water had collectively absorbed more than 90% of the excess thermal energy.

"We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of Carbon dioxide that we emitted", Laure Resplandy, the Princeton geoscientist who led the study told the Washington Post. By looking at the difference, the team was able to predict how much carbon and oxygen were being released by the oceans and, therefore, how warm the world's oceans were getting.

Scientists have long warned that we have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to avoid a future of frequent climate disasters.

"Our results suggest that it's going to be harder than we thought, because the ocean is actually taking more heat than we thought", she said.

This new reality suggests that it is even more unlikely that global warming will remain below the maximum of 2 degrees Celsius established in the Paris agreement.

The scientists say worldwide policymakers have so far failed to make intact ecosystems an explicit target for conservation, such zones risk disappearing completely.

Since 2007, scientists have been able to rely on a system of nearly 4,000 Argo floats that record temperature and salinity in the oceans around the world.

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You can reasonably argue that measuring ocean temperatures using thermometers is a lot more accurate, and you would be right. Also, the Argo floats do not track much of what happened before 2007.

But prior to this, the methods used to measure the heat in the ocean had many flaws and uncertainties.

They analyzed ocean oxygen levels in three places at the bottom, middle, and top of the Earth: the tip of Tasmania at Cape Grim, La Jolla, California and Alert, Canada, just 500 miles from the North Pole. "When the ocean heats up, it loses gases and oxygen is one of them", said Resplandy. It showed that the ocean has soaked up over 13 zettajoules ( or 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules) of heat energy each year between 1991 and 2016.

A new study suggests that previous assessments of oceanic warming have been conservative. For example, the marine ecosystem will be affected by warmer waters and many species could disappear. For example, the Sea of Japan has warmed around 1.7 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years. So some squid populations are already swimming to the north in search of cooler water with more oxygen.

But she said it's not a reason to lose hope - instead, the findings should serve as a reason to double-down on efforts to save the planet.

The new report found that emissions levels in coming decades would need to be 25% lower than laid out by the IPCC to keep warming under that 2 degree cap.

"We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of Carbon dioxide that we emitted", she is quoted as saying.

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