The World’s Oceans May Heat Up 60 Percent More Than Previously Estimated

Just a few weeks ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned about rapidly increasing ocean temperatures. Now, a new report suggests that our waters may be warming by 60 percent more than even the IPCC study found.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the planet, and its temperature patterns are critical for predicting future climate change. 

The IPCC report found that we have a little over a decade to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5ºC. This means climate emissions have to be cut by 20 percent by 2030 — and by 2075 those emissions must be zeroed out — in order to keep global warming from exceeding 2ºC above preindustrial levels.

The Earth has already warmed about 1ºC above preindustrial levels, and if we do nothing, it will like warm three degrees by the end of the century, according to the IPCC.

However, this new study, published this week in the journal “Nature,” concludes that emissions levels need to be 25 percent lower than those laid out by the IPCC.

Researchers, led by Laure Resplandy, a biogeochemical oceanographer at Princeton University, came to this conclusion by taking the temperature of the world’s oceans. They found that between 1991 and 2016, the oceans of the world warmed around 60 percent per year more than the IPCC estimated.

Why the discrepancy? The New York Times explains:

Scientists already know that the world’s oceans absorb 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by human greenhouse gas emissions. In its recent report, the IPCC used one of the lower available estimates of how much the oceans have warmed. Dr. Resplandy and her team found that the upper estimate is more likely what is happening.

Ralph Keeling, coauthor of the study and climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explains another factor: “When you stop the greenhouse gases, the ocean continues to warm for like another two decades, and so everything continues to warm.”

You might be wondering how scientists take the ocean’s temperature. Most of their information comes from the Argo array: about 3,800 robotic devices around the globe that are programmed to float at various depths and to surface about every 10 days, sending readings to satellites.

Resplandy and Keeling used a different method: By filling round glass flasks with air from research stations in Tasmania, San Diego and the Canadian Arctic, they were able to calculate heat based on how much oxygen and carbon dioxide was rising from the ocean.

Resplandy stated that her team was not intending to replace the Argo system. “In science, we want several methods to measure things, to have several methods that converge.”

The disturbing news from this study — that the ocean is warming faster than we thought — is yet another signal that we must take immediate action to curb climate change.

We know that with just two degrees of warming, the effects on humanity could be catastrophic — including coastal flooding, destruction of the planet’s coral reefs and severe food shortages, which could mean extreme poverty for millions of people.

In discussing her findings compared to those of the IPCC warning, Resplandy stated, “It doesn’t change the results. What it does is that it makes it harder to get there.”

So what can we do?

  • Vote for politicians who are willing to work for the environment in the November 6 midterms.
  • Avoid driving as much as possible. Instead, use public transportation, walk or jump on your bike.
  • Install solar panels If you live in a sunny open area. Renewable energy is the way forward.
  • Think about what you really need when shopping and how you might reuse your purchases.
  • Work to end deforestation. As Care2’s Steve Williams explains here, forest loss and climate change are intimately linked.

Photo Credit: Christine Donaldson/Unsplash

56 comments

Dan B
Dan Blossfeld4 days ago

It now appears that a major error in this paper has cause the authors to recant their claim.

https://earthsky.org/earth/ocean-warming-60-greater-error-correction

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld7 days ago

Mark Donner,
Have you nothing better to do than post libelous statements those with whom you disagree. Some of us wish to have an intelligent discussion on this subject. If you cannot back up your claims, then perhaps you should back down. You many wish to take heed of Mark Twain's quote, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt"

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner8 days ago

Blossfeld is a paid shill trying to stop anyone from doing anything about climate change. He is NOT educated in any of this, but pretends to be. Blossfeld is a con artist propagandist trying to seed doubt for his oil comp[any masters. HIs stupid avatar trying to convince people he's some kind of teacher in a lab coat. You don't know crap about polar bears Blossfeld, like everything else you pretend to be an "expert" on.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld13 days ago

Rosemary, et. al.,
Those polar bear images are not disturbing - that is one of their hunting methods. The breakup of the Arctic sea ice over the past decades has made it easier for polar bears to hunt. Hence, their numbers have been increasing over that time.

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RosemaryRannes HusbandHos
RosemaryRannes H14 days ago

Judy thank you for sharing this critical information, including what we can do to help stop Climate Change.
Seeing polar bears clinging to small ice flows in the Arctic is beyond disturbing!
Advocating and educating ourselves, learning from scientists whose studies on climate change and global warming are alarming enough to warrant immediate action.
To those like #notmypresident trump who choose to deny that Climate Change has and will continue to destroy our planet and our oceans is as we have witnessed by his actions, dangerous in every way!

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Peggy B
Peggy B14 days ago

TYFS

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Shae L
Shae Lee14 days ago

Thanks for Sharing

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Henry M
Henry M14 days ago

Time is running out for humans to wise up...

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Ingrid A
Ingrid A15 days ago

Thank you

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Shae L
Shae Lee15 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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