The world’s oceans are warming at a faster rate, with the past two decades accounting for half of the increase in ocean heat content that has occurred since 1865, a new study has found.
“In recent decades the ocean has continued to warm substantially, and with time the warming signal is reaching deeper into the ocean,” said Peter Gleckler from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in US.
Changes in ocean heat storage are important because the ocean absorbs more than 90 per cent of the Earth’s excess heat increase associated with global warming, researchers said.
The observed ocean and atmosphere warming is a result of continuing greenhouse gas emissions.
Quantifying how much heat is accumulating in the Earth system is critical to improving the understanding of climate change already under way and to better assess how much more to expect in decades and centuries to come.
It is vital to improving projections of how much and how fast the Earth will warm and seas rise in the future. Increases in upper ocean temperatures since the 1970s are well documented and associated with greenhouse gas emissions.
By including measurements from a 19th century oceanographic expedition and recent changes in the deeper ocean, the study indicates that half of the accumulated heat during the industrial era has occurred in recent decades, with about a third residing in the deeper oceans.
The team, including researchers from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), analysed a diverse set of ocean temperature observations and a large suite of climate models.
Modern instruments used on a global array of robotic profiling floats (called Argo), launched around 1999 that “phone home” the data using satellites.
This study found that estimates of ocean warming over a range of times and depths are consistent with results from the latest generation of climate models, building confidence that the climate models are providing useful information.
“The year-round, global distribution of ocean temperature data collected by Argo has been key in improving our estimates of ocean warming and assessing climate models,” noted LLNL oceanographer Paul Durack. The finding was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.