Climate Change: Ocean Warming May Have Doubled in Recent Decades

First Posted: Jan 21, 2016 04:22 PM EST

Ocean warming may have actually doubled in recent decades. Now, scientists have discovered that half of the global ocean heat content increase since 1865 has occurred over the past two decades.

Understanding changes in ocean heat storage is important since the ocean absorbs more than 90 percent of Earth's excess heat increase that is associated with global warming. The observed ocean and atmosphere warming is a result of continuing greenhouse gas emissions. Quantifying exactly how much heat is accumulating in Earth's 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.

Increases in upper ocean temperatures since the 1970s are well documented and associated with greenhouse gas emissions. In this latest study, the researchers included measurements from a 19th century oceanographic expedition and recent changes in the deeper ocean. This revealed that half of the accumulated heat during the industrial area has occurred in recent decades.

This, in particular, is important to note as researchers examine what kind of changes the global ocean may experience in the future.

"Given the importance of the ocean warming signal for understanding our changing climate, it is high time to measure the global ocean systematically from the surface to the ocean floor," said Gregory Johnson, NOAA oceanographer, in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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