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The World’s Oceans Are Warming Far Faster Than Thought — Should Congress Get Tough on Climate?

by Axios | 11.2.18

The world's oceans have absorbed about 60% more heat during the past 25 years than previously estimated, according to a new study published in the journal Nature. The study takes advantage of a new method that can serve as a whole ocean thermometer.

Why it matters: If the ocean is absorbing even more heat than observed, it would suggest future global warming will track on the upper end of projections — possibly as high as 5°C, or 9°F, by 2100 if emissions are not significantly curtailed.

The oceans are absorbing about 93% of the extra energy from increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

What they did: For the study, scientists, led by Princeton University geochemist Laure Resplandy and Ralph Keeling from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, devised a new way of taking the global ocean temperature. It relies on precise atmospheric measurements of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which date back to 1991.

  • The scientists examined the combined amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air, which they term "atmospheric potential oxygen," or APO.
  • Both of these gases are less soluble in warmer water, and as the ocean warms, these gases are released into the air, which increases the APO.
  • This contrasts with other methods that use millions of observations from ocean sensors, including buoys and ship-based instruments. These measurements have considerable uncertainty, particularly the further back you go in time.

What they found: The amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by human activities before putting the goals of limiting warming to under 2℃, or 3.6℉, out of reach is about 25% less than what was previously calculated.

“Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet deep,” said Resplandy in a press release. “Our data shows that it would have warmed by 6.5℃, or 11.7℉, every decade since 1991. In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4℃, or 7.2℉, every decade.”

What they're saying: Keeling told Axios the results, “Imply that there’s likely to be more warming in the future.”

  • This is because the warming oceans eventually transfer much of that extra heat into the atmosphere, resulting in accelerated global warming and stronger storms that can deliver heavier precipitation.

"This study shows that estimates of this ocean heat uptake are probably on the high side of what we previously thought," said NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel. "Why is this scary? Because of something called 'climate sensitivity:' a measure of how hot the planet will eventually get."

Pieter Tans, who closely tracks the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere for NOAA and was not involved in the new study, told Axios the paper is valuable for providing a new, independent estimate of global average ocean warming.

"In case the larger estimate of ocean heat uptake turns out to be true, adaptation to, and mitigation of, our changing climate would become more urgent."

— Pieter Tans, NOAA

However, Tans cautioned that the new estimate is still uncertain, and needs to be replicated by subsequent studies. So too did Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who was not involved in the new study.

Ultimately, the calculations, Trenberth says, "have implications, because the planet is clearly warming and at faster rates that previously appreciated, and the oceans are the main memory of the climate system (along with ice loss)."

Andrew Freedman

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Axios

Written by Axios

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(130)
  • TheJacobin
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Man-made Climate Change is real, and if we don’t act now, our children are the ones who will pay the price.

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  • Robert
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Unfortunately this is based on science and facts, this administration has no concept of science, facts and truth.

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  • operaman
    Voted No
    11/26/2018
    ···

    CLIMATE CHANGE: The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulate at Bergen Norway. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. Within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coast cities uninhabitable. * * * * * * * * * I must apologize. I neglected to mention that this report was from November 2, 1922 , as reported by the AP and published in The Washington Post 96 years ago. This must have been caused by the Model T Ford's emissions or possibly from horse and cattle farts.

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  • Mark
    Voted Maybe
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Focus on China, Malaysia and India where 87% of the worlds climate altering pollution is generated. If you want to have a real impact get busy on that. When those three nations are as clean as we are, then we can talk about making tougher rules here for Americans.

    Like (5)
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  • Robert
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Here’s the REAL THREAT😩 Not immagration😂

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  • Vanessa
    Voted No
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Yeah, like humans are going to make a difference in ocean temperatures. Maybe we can stop Hawaii’s volcanoes. That would make ocean temperatures drop, I’m sure! Let Libs be the first to put a cork in that volcano. Lol

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  • ConservativeGuy
    11/03/2018
    ···

    Congress has no jurisdiction over climate. Only Buffoons think they do.

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  • Brian
    Voted Maybe
    11/26/2018
    ···

    What’s different from the other times throughout US history?

    Like (2)
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  • Rowan
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    The latest report from the IPCC which was published a few weeks ago makes it abundantly clear that we need to take direct decisive action RIGHT NOW in order to curb the effects of climate change that are continuing to intensify. This should not be a partisan debate. This is public interest #1

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  • JamieD
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Terrifying but again, yes, it should. They can start by getting Trump to reinstate the EPA’s page on climate change, which has been deleted. If only fixing a problem were as easy as removing the evidence of it ...

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  • Brian
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Yes start by impeaching the liar in chief , n any republicans that don’t believe in climate change

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  • Andreo1950
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    There is no doubt that mankind’s pollution of our atmosphere is affecting ozone layer and leading to global warming. The nations of the world need to work together to solve this problem and that’s why I oppose the current nationalism climate that seems to be spreading across our planet. We have to stop this selfish philosophy of screw everyone else, as long as I get what I want. We need global unity and this can only be achieved if citizens worldwide vote out dictators, despots and fascists. The phrase “United we stand, divided we fall” does not apply to one country but rather all mankind. We can be better than what we have been.

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  • Ben
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Congress should have gotten on this years ago but they are too busy choking us to death so they can sell us gas masks. DEATH TO TYRANTS!

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  • Crossesandliberalism
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Yea, the greenhouse gases are making the Earth too hot. Change to the use of our resources is needed according to this post.

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  • Willaim
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    The US need to be leaders again in this effort

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  • Dorothy
    Voted No
    11/02/2018
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    It’s not the USA with the problem of pollution it’s mostly China and other countries causing the problem. The State Department should handle this not Congress.

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  • Leon
    Voted No
    11/02/2018
    ···

    30 years of data won’t show natural cycles in our climate. In the 80s they were forecasting an ice age.

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  • Christine
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Unfortunately the 115th is a DO NOTHING but allow the deranged illegitimate potus to do or not do what he wants regardless of facts. We need a BLUE TSUNAMI. Get out and VOTE 🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊

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  • Todd
    Voted No
    11/02/2018
    ···

    Climate change not all man made. We are the cleanest country is the other ones that don't care

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  • Travis
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    If they want their legacies to survive, as well as the rest of humanity and current Life, then yes—act on it!

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  • Steven
    Voted Yes
    11/02/2018
    ···

    If we don’t do something about rising ocean levels and climate change now it will cost us much more later from damage to our coast lines and in disaster relief.

    Like (4)
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