Earth's Oceans Warmed More in Last 60 Years Than Previous 10,000 (Video)

First Posted: Nov 01, 2013 07:51 AM EDT

Global warming is still a major issue for our planet. Surprisingly, though, this warming has largely been put on "pause" over the past few years. Now, scientists may have an explanation for this seeming halt in warming; it turns out that Earth's oceans are taking up the excess heat for the moment. In fact, Pacific Ocean temperatures at the middle depths have warmed 15 times faster in the last 60 years than they did during the natural warming cycles in the previous 10,000.

The idea that oceans are storing excess heat isn't anything new. In fact, researchers believed since the 1970s that greenhouse gas emissions have probably been absorbed by ocean water. These new findings, though, put this idea into a long-term context and show that the oceans may be storing even more of the effects of human gas emissions than previously even considered.

"We're experimenting by putting all this heat in the ocean without quite knowing how it's going to come back out and affect climate," said Braddock Linsley, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It's not so much the magnitude of the change, but the rate of change."

In order to examine this particular phenomenon a bit more closely, the researchers looked at cores of sediment from the seas where water from the Pacific flows into the Indian Ocean. By measuring the levels of magnesium to calcium in the shells of Hyalinea balthica, the researchers were able to estimate the temperature of the middle-depth waters from about 1,500 to 3,000 feet down. The waters around this area actually represent the middle-depth temperatures throughout the western Pacific since the waters originate from the mid-depths of the North and South Pacific.

So what did they find? It turns out that the ocean waters have generally been cooling over the past 10,000 years. It's not until 1600 that water temperatures began to rise. Then, over the past 60 years, water column temperatures increased a substantial .32 degrees F. That's a rate of warming that's 15 times faster than at any period in the last 10,000 years.

The findings are huge for better understanding how warming is affecting our climate and, in turn, our oceans. In addition, it shows that our oceans are continuing to absorb heat, which may affect species that rely on cooler waters to survive. As the warming continues, it's more important than ever to assess how our environment might shift because of it.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

Want to learn more? Check out the video below, courtesy of Vimeo.

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