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A recent study claims our oceans absorbed way more heat than previously thought. And our planet may be warming at a faster rate as a result. Photo: Danting Zhu/Unsplash

A recent study claims our oceans absorbed way more heat than previously thought. And our planet may be warming at a faster rate as a result. Photo: Danting Zhu/Unsplash


The Inertia

Between sea level rise, plastic pollution, ocean acidification, and coral reef loss, it seems every day scientists are uncovering devastating news about the future of our oceans. And sadly, the hits keep coming.

In a recent study published in Nature, a group of researchers found that previous models to assess how much heat our oceans have absorbed over the last few decades was a little off. How off? For starters, the team suggests that the Earth’s oceans likely absorbed 60 percent more heat over the last 25 years than previously thought. That doesn’t bode well for efforts to cap global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius – the underlying aim of the Paris Agreement.

“We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted,” Dr. Laure Resplandy, lead author of the study, told the Washington Post. “But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already.”

Prior to this study, significant doubt was cast over data collected by devices called “Argo floats” whose use was significantly expanded after 2007.

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The startling conclusion of Dr. Resplandy and her team’s revelation is the Earth may actually be warming at a faster rate, and the planet may be even more sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions than previously understood.

“Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet deep. Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5 degrees Celsius every decade since 1991.” Dr. Resplandy explained to the Daily Mail. “In comparison, the estimate of the last [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4 degrees Celsius every decade.”

The study comes just weeks after the United Nations released a report that paints a dire picture of the effects of a 1.5 degree Celsius global temperature increase. It explained that barring significant action, we could see increased serious effects of climate change including increased droughts, sea level rise, and food shortages as early as 2040.

According to Dr. Resplandy, the new report means that turning the tide on climate change may require even greater coordination than the “unprecedented changes” suggested in the UN Report. “If you look at the [UN Report], there are big challenges ahead to keep those targets, and our study suggests it’s even harder because we close the window for those lower pathways,” she told BBC News.