Oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought

Dogtooth tuna

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.

The amount of energy absorbed by the ocean is 60 percent higher than the figure used in the most recent report on climate change from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), researchers said.

"It is a big concern", said lead author Dr Laure Resplandy from Princeton University in New Jersey. "Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5 degrees Celsius every decade since 1991".

The oceans soaking up excess heat would only bring calamity to the world. But for climate scientists, the answer has serious consequences. "It will affect the earth for centuries and millennia after that", he said. If ocean temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than previously estimated, there is less time available for countries to cut their carbon emissions and to achieve the goal of limiting the global warming, as set in the Paris agreement.

The UN report found that the planet will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.


Atmosphere researchers say rising sea temperatures have filled all the more ground-breaking storms and are slaughtering off underwater wildlife like Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Knowing this makes it possible to estimate the surface warming we can expect, said co-author Ralph Keeling, a Scripps Oceanography geophysicist.

The study found that current means of acquiring data on ocean temperatures, which rely on floating robotic devices that transmit readings to satellites, known as the Argo array, have gaps in coverage as some parts of the ocean have too many floats while some have too few. If oceans rise faster than forecast, that represents more of an immediate threat to low-lying communities.

These gases dissolve in ocean water and the amount that can be absorbed by the ocean depends on its temperature. If further research corroborates the findings of the latest study, those calculations would need to be redone and the forecast would be more dire. The researchers used a different way to measure ocean warmth, "an independent estimate by using measurements of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide-levels of which increase as the ocean warms and releases gases-as a whole-ocean thermometer".

"As the ocean has been warming, it's basically pushing out oxygen and carbon dioxide", said David Nicholson, an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not involved in the study.As Dr. Resplandy put it: "If you leave a Coke outside in the sun, it's going to warm and it's going to lose the gas". Precise measurements of atmospheric oxygen began in 1991 and carbon dioxide in 1958, allowing the researchers to draw on almost three decades of data.

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