Scientists are blaming the effects of climate change for pushing up ocean temperatures at a rapid rate. According to a new global warming study, far more heat is being stored at deeper levels of the ocean than ever before, much of which has occurred within the last 20 years.
“We estimate that half of the total global ocean heat uptake since 1865 has accumulated since 1997,” a team of researchers led by Peter Gleckler of the Laurence Livermore National Laboratory in California reported.
Scientists see the greatest warming trend in the top 700 meters of the ocean. Yet, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new research is showing that water deeper has also been getting hotter.
“As the upper oceans have been warming over time, more and more of this heat is finding its way down into the deeper ocean, and our results indicate that the fractional amount of heat that is trapped in the deeper ocean is increasing as well,” Gleckler said.
For the study, researchers pieced together years of data, including ocean temperature measurements taken in the 1870s by the Challenger expedition as well as measurements taken from modern instruments. About 4,000 Argo floats spread across the global ocean have been tracking temperatures as deep as 6,500 feet.
Scientists define global warming as an overall increase in air temperature, since more heat is retained within the Earth’s atmosphere than escapes into space. As the ocean has a greater ability to store energy, much of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases will eventually end up in there.
“The heat capacity of the Earth’s entire atmosphere is equaled by the top 3.5 meters [11 feet] of the ocean,” explains a fact sheet released by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to accompany the new study.
Higher ocean temperatures near the surface have pushed some marine life closer to the poles, damaged coral reefs and increased world sea levels. Research has also linked global warming to more intense hurricanes and a boost in acid levels in ocean water.
Some scientists fear a layer of warmer middle-ocean water is slowly melting a massive ice sheet located under Antarctica. However, scientists can only guess, as there is no solid evidence to support such a connection.
Since up to 90 percent of heat created by climate change is absorbed by the ocean, researchers say land temperatures are much lower than they would be otherwise and appear to have leveled off in recent years. Nonetheless, just because the oceans are taking up much of the added heat, global warming does not appear to be stopping.
Some believe the study’s findings do not go far enough. Kevin Trenberth, who was not involved in the research, told the Associated Press that the study substantially underestimates just how much heat really lies in the ocean.
As of now, scientists do not know if the additional heat in the ocean will ever return to the atmosphere. The actual temperature increase of the ocean is quite small, however, due to the vastness of the oceans this change is quite significant.
Scientists think this may lead to severe consequences later on. The higher temperature could interrupt sea and atmospheric circulation, which impacts global weather patterns. Additionally, as the oceans get warmer, less heat is absorbed which gets forced into the atmosphere and onto the land.
As reported by the Inquisitr last month, global leaders met in Paris to discuss policies that could potentially slow down the effects of climate change.
Global warming experts predict the Earth’s temperate will increase roughly 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. The climate change study was conducted by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Pennsylvania State University.
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