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New study finds oceans are warming up much faster than previously thought

New study finds oceans are war...
A new study has found that the rate of ocean warming as a result of climate change could be much worse than previously thought
A new study has found that the rate of ocean warming as a result of climate change could be much worse than previously thought
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A new study has found that the rate of ocean warming as a result of climate change could be much worse than previously thought
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A new study has found that the rate of ocean warming as a result of climate change could be much worse than previously thought

A warming planet doesn't just affect the quality of the air – the oceans are also heating up at an alarming rate, which can bleach coral, melt glaciers and raise the sea level. While this is hardly news to anybody, it turns out that the problem may be much worse than we initially thought. A new study has used a more accurate technique to measure the rate of ocean warming, and found that it could be 60 percent higher than the current worst-case scenario suggests.

Previous studies measured changes in ocean temperature by way of Argo, a network of robotic sensors that float in the oceans the world over and keep an eye on things. While this system is incredibly precise and will be useful going forward, its data only goes back to 2007, so it can't place readings in their historical context.

To take a wider snapshot of the warming ocean, a new study led by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography looked to the air instead. The working principle behind the study is that as water warms up, it releases more oxygen and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By calculating the combined amount of those two gases in the air – a figure it calls atmospheric potential oxygen (APO) – the team is able to get an idea of how much heat the ocean is holding.

Of course, a warming ocean isn't the only factor at play in that figure – burning fossil fuels is largely what got us into this mess in the first place, and other natural processes contribute too. But after accounting for those other factors, the team was able to single out the warming ocean's influence, and by extension its heat-energy content.

The study estimated that the world's oceans absorbed more than 13 zettajoules of heat energy each year between 1991 and 2016. That's about 150 times more energy than humans produce as electricity in a year, the team says.

Unfortunately, it's also about 60 percent higher than was estimated by the recent report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which already painted a pretty grim picture of the path we're on.

"Imagine if the ocean was only 30 ft (9 m) deep," says Laure Resplandy, lead author of the study. "Our data shows that it would have warmed by 6.5℃ (11.7℉) every decade since 1991. In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4℃ (7.2℉) every decade."

Thanks to that extra warming, the new study concludes that we humans would need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a further 25 percent, in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Given our current trajectory and the fact that studies seem to keep finding grimmer outlooks, that's pretty worrying.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

UPDATE (Nov. 14/18): Study co-author Ralph Keeling has issued the following statement: I am working with my co-authors to address two problems that came to our attention since publication. These problems, related to incorrectly treating systematic errors in the O2 measurements and the use of a constant land O2:C exchange ratio of 1.1, do not invalidate the study's methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based. We expect the combined effect of these two corrections to have a small impact on our calculations of overall heat uptake, but with larger margins of error. We are redoing the calculations and preparing author corrections for submission to Nature.

UPDATE (Sep 26, 2019): Nature has now asked for the paper relating to this research to be retracted. The following has been issued by the authors:
"Shortly after publication, arising from comments from Nicholas Lewis, we realized that our reported uncertainties were underestimated owing to our treatment of certain systematic errors as random errors. In addition, we became aware of several smaller issues in our analysis of uncertainty. Although correcting these issues did not substantially change the central estimate of ocean warming, it led to a roughly fourfold increase in uncertainties, significantly weakening implications for an upward revision of ocean warming and climate sensitivity. Because of these weaker implications, the Nature editors asked for a Retraction, which we accept. Despite the revised uncertainties, our method remains valid and provides an estimate of ocean warming that is independent of the ocean data underpinning other approaches. The revised paper, with corrected uncertainties, will be submitted to another journal. The Retraction will contain a link to the new publication, if and when it is published."

18 comments
guzmanchinky
It is terribly concerning, these worsening numbers. Hopefully we will develop the clean, unlimited power of fusion and use it to capture CO2 before it's too late. But I think we will make major breakthroughs in the next 10 to 20 years that will make the progress of the previous 20 years seem slow...
DreadUK
Unfortunately for this study, our oceans are an awful lot deeper than 30M so just add it to the 'hysterical scare tactics' pile along with the latest IPCC report. I mean, no one would mind but not one single catastrophic prediction made by the alarmists has come to pass in the last 40 years, but they still keep pumping them out.
Robert in Vancouver
If oceans have been warming then polar ice would be melting and sea levels would have gone up by now. I have lived 50 metres away from the Pacific Ocean shoreline for 40 years. There has been no change in the tide marks or sea level of the Pacific Ocean. That is actual proof that anyone can see. Computer programmes that predict what might happen to the climate just spit out whatever has been put into them and have been proven wrong over and over.
piperTom
Despite the claims here, the study doesn't claim to have found warmer current-ocean temps; it claims to have found cooler ancient-ocean temps. I think the study proves that you can get a grant for your study just by promising the abstract will read "be afraid!" And, OF COURSE, this means you will be looking to be "saved" by the tried and true method of giving money and power to politicians.
Charles Yeomans
Bad Science Talking about 30 m when a lot of the ocean is 6K to 10K deep is not really relevant. As one knows the density of water is highest at 4 C, otherwise we would be in real problems, and why Ice Floats. However we should be cautious of Ice Melting, diluting the gulf stream which is cyclical and leads to an Ice Age, mini or minor.
paul314
The additional heating means additional sea level rise (because water expands with increasing temperature. With an average ocean depth of 3000 meters, that effect is about two feet per degree celsius of warming. So this could be the difference between some seawalls holding barely vs being overtopped. It also means there's that much more effect on the various conveyor systems that power oceanic circulation. If we disrupt those, the habitability of the earth could become quite different.
The Bishop of D
There is usually something missing from the discussion of the consequence of warming ocean temperature: the coefficient of thermal expansion of water. Do the math: an average (over-simplified, but adequate for demonstration purposes) increase of the temperature of the world's ocean's of a mere 1 degree Celsius would raise sea level on the order of 9 meters/28 feet.
Koolski2
30 meters is a bit too shallow that's only about 0.1% of its actual depth. Besides, I'm a firm believer that this is purely a cycle of nature. Warm water leads to increased evaporation. Increased evaporation leads to more clouds. More clouds lead to increased precipitation and cooler temps. Cooler temps with more precip. leads to increasing ice sheets and snow which leads to ...
Catweazle
"The working principle behind the study is that as water warms up, it releases more oxygen and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere." Really... What happened to "Ocean Acidification" then? As to a study that starts by assuming the oceans are 30M deep and extrapolating from there... Don't bother!
ljaques
OhMyGodWe'reGonnaDie...Again...EvenQuicker! Ayieeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Buy your new Arizona beachfront lots NOW, folks! Wow, FL and CA gone. L.A.,NYC, Manhattan, and NOLA underwater. Possible map. Oh, dear. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/51/21461 P.S: That bull puckey is only if you believe the Alarmists. If not, no worries. Humans adapt to things =if= and when they happen. No big.