Study: Oceans warming 60 percent more than previously thought

By Daniel Uria

Oct. 31 (UPI) -- The world's oceans may be heating up at a faster pace than previously thought, leaving the planet less time to avoid catastrophic global warming, according to a study published Wednesday.

The study published in the journal Nature by scientists at Princeton University, University of California San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and other research centers found that the earth's oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year over the past quarter century than previously determined by scientists.


"We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of [carbon dioxide] that we emitted," one of the report's authors, Princeton geoscientist Laure Resplandy. 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."

The study found that current means of acquiring data on ocean temperatures, which rely on floating robotic devices that transmit readings to satellites, known as the Argo array, have gaps in coverage as some parts of the ocean have too many floats while some have too few.


"It's not that easy to reliably estimate the whole ocean heat from spot measurements," Ralph Keeling, climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and co-author of the report, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "You have to model what's happening in the gaps."

Resplandy and Keeling instead collected data by measuring the volume of gases, particularly oxygen and carbon dioxide, that have escaped the ocean as it heats up and entered the atmosphere over the past few decades.

"When the ocean warms, it loses some gas to the atmosphere," said Resplandy. "That's an analogy that I make all the time: If you leave your Coke in the sun, it will lose the gas."

This method provided scientists a reliable indicator of ocean temperature change and resulted in reporting a higher number for how much warmings oceans have experienced.

A report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month called for "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes" to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees, in order to offer the best chance of protecting people, property and natural ecosystems -- and "ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society."

The IPCC report called for climate emissions to be cut by 20 percent by 2030 and then eliminated by 2075 to achieve that goal.


Wednesday's study found emissions levels would need to be 25 percent lower than the IPCC's guidelines, as rising ocean temperatures will continue to drive warming for several more decades even if the world immediately and drastically reduces greenhouse gases.

"The ocean warmed more than we thought, and that has serious implications for future policy," Resplandy said. "This is definitely something that should and will be taken into account in the next report."

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