‘Startling’ Warming Study Shows Oceans Absorbing 60% More Heat Than Scientists Thought
Global warming is farther advanced than scientists believed, with the world’s oceans absorbing 60% more heat per year over the last quarter-century than previously research had shown, according to a startling new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The result means countries may have even less time to set a course to decarbonization than the “unprecedented”, dozen-year sprint laid out in last month’s landmark IPCC report on 1.5°C pathways.
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“The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by Earth’s atmosphere—the yearly amount representing more than eight times the world’s annual energy consumption,” the Washington Post reports. The results suggest “that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead.”
“We thought we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted,” said lead author and Princeton University geoscientist Laure Resplandy. “But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already.”
That finding “could have important policy implications,” the Post states. “If ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than previously calculated, that could leave nations even less time to dramatically cut the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, in the hope of limiting global warming to the ambitious goal of 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.”
The study also “underscores the potential consequences of global inaction,” write Post reporters Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis. “Rapidly warming oceans mean that seas will rise faster and that more heat will be delivered to critical locations that already are facing the effects of a warming climate, such as coral reefs in the tropics and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.”
While the study implies a smaller available carbon budget for human activity, the Post says it resolves some long-standing concerns about the reliability of ocean warming measurements. Daunting as its findings are, University of Arizona oceanographer Joellen Russell called the study “a triumph of Earth system science. That we could get confirmation from atmospheric gases of ocean heat content is extraordinary.” She added that “you’ve got the A team here on this paper.”