Earth’s ocean temps hottest ever in modern history

Researchers say they are particularly concerned about the Southern Ocean warming and it's affects on the Antarctic Ice Shelves. Photo by Reeve Jolliffe/Flickr/NASA

Jan. 14 (UPI) — According to the authors of a new study, Earth’s oceans provide the best measures climate change. The latest research suggests Earth’s oceans have never been hotter, at least not in modern history.

The new study, published this week in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, showed the average global ocean temperature each of the last five years was one of the top five on record. The same goes for the last ten years.

“Ninety percent of the heating of the climate system goes into the ocean,” climate scientist Michael Mann, a professor at Penn State University, told UPI in an email. “So that’s where you really want to look. It’s also less prone to year-to-year fluctuations than surface temperature because it’s a more comprehensive, integrated estimate of climate warming.”

For the study, scientists compiled ocean water temperature measurements from across the globe, mostly measurements recorded by Argo floats.

“We used actual ocean observations but since there are gaps in the data, an ocean model was used to interpolate the gaps, providing a more comprehensive global estimate of heat content,” Mann said.

By filling in data gaps with ocean heat exchange models, the team of scientists in the United States and China were able to more accurately compare today’s ocean warming patterns with those dating back to 1950. Their efforts showed that not only were the oceans hotter than they’ve been in modern history in 2019, they also warmed more dramatically than they have since humans starting logging ocean temperature records.

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Warmer oceans have a variety of impacts on both climate and ecosystems. They generate stronger storms, accelerate the loss of sea ice and coastal glaciers and increase the risk of coral bleaching. Warmer ocean temperatures could also cause a breakdown in ocean currents.

“I’m particularly worried about the effect of Southern Ocean warming on the destabilization of the Antarctic Ice Shelves, which could lead to not only feet but meters of sea level rise by the end of this century,” Mann told UPI.

While the ocean is a superior tool for studying climate change, it is also, like Earth’s ice caps and glaciers, slow to respond to changes in Earth’s climate. As such, scientists warn that the ocean will likely continue to warm even if carbon emissions are reduced and global warming is slowed.

“However, the rates and magnitudes of ocean warming and the associated risks will be smaller with lower GHG emissions,” researchers wrote in their paper.

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