Oceans are the “sink” that is taking the brunt of global warming, say researchers

The Guardian reports, 18th January 2016: Ocean water has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat and nearly 30% of the carbon dioxide generated by human consumption of fossil fuels.

The world’s oceans are warming at a quickening rate, with the past 20 years accounting for half of the increase in ocean heat content that has occurred since pre-industrial times, a new study has found.

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered that much of the extra heat in the ocean is buried deep underwater, with 35% of the additional warmth found at depths below 700 metres.

This means far more heat is present in the far reaches of the ocean than 20 years ago, when it contained just 20% of the extra heat produced from the release of greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution.

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, sheds further light on the vast quantities of heat being absorbed by the world’s oceans.

Ocean water, which has a much higher heat capacity than air, has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat and nearly 30% of the carbon dioxide generated by human consumption of fossil fuels. The vast Southern Ocean sucked up 1.2bn tonnes of carbon in 2011 alone — which is roughly equivalent to the European Union’s annual carbon output.

The deep water heat content has increased by “several tenths of a degree” since the industrial revolution when averaged out across the globe, according to Peter Gleckler, lead author of the paper. Gleckler said that while this is less than the 0.5°C warming averaged across the upper reaches of the ocean, it is still a “huge increase” and is gaining pace.

“When we discuss global warming, the most familiar way we do that is talk about temperature changes on the surface — but it’s clear that the oceans are doing the bulk of the work in terms of absorbing the heat in the system,” he said. “And if we want to really understand how much heat is being trapped, we can’t just look at the upper ocean anymore, we need to look deeper.

“The findings are concerning. It’s clear evidence that the oceans are taking the brunt of the greenhouse gases and are accumulating a lot of heat. As for the ecological implications, that’s hard to say. There is a lot of life in the deep oceans and there’s lots we don’t know about the impact upon that life.”

Source: The Guardian, 18th January 2016. For the full story, see www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/18/world-oceans-warming-faster-rate-new-study-fossil-fuels

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