Can the Oceans Protect Us from Global Warming?
Earth’s oceans are gradually feeling more like hot tubs, and the culprit is clear: climate change. Newly published research has uncovered some alarming findings: oceans have warmed more in the past 60 years than they have in the previous 10,000. Worse yet, the water in the Pacific Ocean specifically is warming at a rate 15 times faster than it has in the past 10 millennia.
This rise in temperatures makes sense since large bodies of water have been bearing the brunt of global warming, reports National Geographic. According to estimates, the oceans are responsible for absorbing more than 90% of the extra heat created from climate change. Therefore, those who insist they haven’t noticed much of a temperature difference in the age of climate change aren’t exactly wrong given the oceans’ thankless role in attracting most of the heat.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how much more heat the oceans can accept. At a certain point, oceans might no longer be able to suck in the effects of global warming, leaving the land to get much hotter, as well.
“We may have underestimated the efficiency of the oceans as a storehouse for heat and energy,” said lead scientist Yair Rosenthal in Time. “It may buy us some time – how much time, I really don’t know. But it’s not going to stop climate change.”
In the 60-year span the researchers examined, ocean temperatures have increased by 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit. That might seem small compare to the rise in the earth’s surface temperatures (1.5 degrees), but it is perhaps even more significant after considering that earth is 70% water and requires massive levels of heat to produce that kind of change.
The oceans’ rising temperatures are not without consequences. The extra heat has caused “thermal expansion,” which results in higher sea levels. In the past century, oceans have already risen by seven inches; experts anticipate the sea level to rise by another two feet in the upcoming 100 years. Inhabitants of places in lower elevations are vulnerable to having their land washed away.
Even if the news itself is frightening, the way in which the researchers obtained their data is remarkable. The scientists from Rutgers University studied minute creatures on the ocean floor known as foraminifera. They can ascertain previous ocean temperatures by inspecting the foraminifera’s shells. These shells reveal the temperature at the time of its formation through their ratio of magnesium to calcium. From this information, the researchers were able to chart the ocean temperatures over time and note the changes.
The shell data also corresponded with known climate fluctuations from bygone eras. They suggested a warmer ocean during a period of heat circa 1200, as well as colder ocean temperatures during the minor Ice Age between 1550 and 1850.