Oceans Have Soaked Up 60 Percent More Heat Than We Thought

A man walks past a boat anchored at the Indian Ocean in Mombasa 2011. /FILE

Both gases are soluble in water, but the rate at which water absorbs them decreases as it warms.

A new report suggests that this has made seawater even warmer than we thought.

The report published by the journal Nature recommends that the world reduce excess carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent more than previously estimated to keep the goal of preventing the global temperature to rise above 2 Celsius.

First author Laure Resplandy, an assistant professor of geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute, said that her and her co-authors' estimate is more than 60 percent higher than the figure in the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report on climate change from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is the leading worldwide body for the assessment of climate change, and its evaluations form the backbone of the technical guidelines used by policymakers. If more heat is going into the oceans than we realized, that also means that our greenhouse gas emissions are trapping more heat than we thought.

However, a new study has suggested that we have massively underestimated the amount of heat absorbed by our oceans in recent decades.

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.

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"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. "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 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade".

In its latest report, the IPCC stresses that a warming ocean threatens marine life such as coral reefs and kelp forests, onto which entire ecosystems are based.

Besides, all that heat absorbed by the ocean will cause some unfortunate changes.

The team analyzed oxygen levels in the ocean and carbon dioxide (CO2) at three locations in the lower, middle and upper part of the Earth: the tip of Tasmania in Cape Grim, La Jolla, California, and Alert, Canada, only 800 kilometres from the north pole. It's more or less like leaving a Coke outside in the sun - in time, as it gets warm, it will fizzle out.

"All of these estimates use the same imperfect set of ocean data", they wrote. What you need, however, is thermal sensors around the globe, and these have been in place only since 2007.

It remains to be seen, however, if the new gas-measuring method holds up to scientific scrutiny. Keeping those temperatures down requires cutting the amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere.


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