Science & Nature Climate change: Oceans hotter than ever before, new study...

Climate change: Oceans hotter than ever before, new study reveals


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Ocean waters hit their highest temperature ever last year, and the rate at which they are warming is speeding up, a new study has revealed. Researchers called the new data “further proof of global warming.”

The world’s oceans are warmer than ever — and they are getting warmer faster, according to a new report.

In a development that provides yet further evidence of global warming, the study, published in the Chinese journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, found that ocean temperatures in the last decade have been the warmest on record.

In addition, the research illustrates the influence of human-induced warming on the Earth’s waters and indicates that sea-level rise, ocean acidification and extreme weather could get worse as the oceans go on absorbing excess heat.

  • Malediven (picture alliance/Photoshot)

    What happens when ocean temperatures rise?

    Atlantis 2.0

    As global warming speeds up, so does the rise in sea levels. While 2004 to 2010 saw oceans rise by about 15 millimeters in total, this value doubled for 2010 to 2016. Tropical regions in the western Pacific are especially affected, threatening many of the coastal areas and low-lying islands with submersion by the end of the century.

  • Arktis Eisdecke Klima Arktischer Ozean Nordpol Schmelztümpel (picture-alliance/dpa/U.Mauder)

    What happens when ocean temperatures rise?

    Breaking the ice

    As ocean and atmospheric temperatures increase, glaciers and ice caps shrink in size. In 2016, the global sea ice extent was 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles) below average. Consequently, more meltwater flows into rivers and oceans, which also causes sea levels to rise.

  • Clownfisch (imago/OceanPhoto)

    What happens when ocean temperatures rise?

    Losing Nemo

    Some ocean regions have already warmed by more than 3 degrees Celsius, upsetting marine ecosystems. Seventy-two percent of demersal fish species in the northeast Atlantic Ocean have so far been affected, with warming limiting their abundance and spread. Species that live in tropical ocean waters, like the clownfish, are also experiencing habitat-related population decreases.

  • Australien Meeresschutzgebiet Great Barrier Reef Luftaufnahme (imago/blickwinkel)

    What happens when ocean temperatures rise?

    Coral bleaching

    Warming and acidifying waters affect Nemo’s navigation senses, and also threaten his home – coral reefs, one of the most sensitive marine ecosystems. A water temperature increase of as much as 3 degrees Celsius can cause the death of corals and the marine animal species that live in them. Northern parts of Great Barrier Reef have seen coral mortality rates of 50 percent.

  • Hurrikan Gonzalo über Atlantischem Ozean 17.10.2014 (Reuters/NASA/Alexander Gerst)

    What happens when ocean temperatures rise?

    Stormy weather

    With increased ocean heat, extremely strong tropical storms are set to occur much more frequently. One of these massive storms was Hurricane Matthew, which hit Haiti in October 2016. The Haitian government put the official death toll at 546, and the hurricane also caused $15 billion (13.8 billion euros) in economic losses on the island nation and in the US, Cuba and the Bahamas.

  • Flugzeug am Himmel (Fotolia/dell)

    What happens when ocean temperatures rise?

    Heads or tails

    There is a strong correlation between atmospheric wind patterns and ocean temperatures, meaning warming waters may also cause the jet stream to get stronger. This could affect airplane travel due to intensified head- and tailwinds. On the upside, this means that some flights may be much faster. On the downside, other flights may take longer and could experience more turbulence.

    Author: Jessie-May Franken

‘Really dire news’

“The pace of warming has increased about 500% since the late 1980s,” John Abraham, one of the researchers behind the study, told NBC News.

Abraham, who is a professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, was not surprised by the results of the study. “The findings, to be honest, were not unexpected. Warming is continuing, it has accelerated, and it is unabated. Unless we do something significant and quickly, it’s really dire news.”

Read more: Opinion: We have to talk about the climate

The rate of ocean warming is increasing at an alarming rate, according to the report. It showed that, from the period 1987 to 2019 compared with the period 1955 to 1986, the rate of warming accelerated almost 4 1/2 times in the latter timespan.

Abraham and his colleagues found that in 2019 alone, average ocean temperatures were 0.075 degrees Celsius (0.135 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981-2019 median. While that may not seem a lot, it represents an enormous amount of heat spread across the world’s oceans. 

Read more: My Australian paradise lost

The study’s lead author, Lijing Cheng, an associate professor at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Beijing, equated the increase in ocean heat over the past 25 years to that of “3.6 billion Hiroshima atom bomb explosions.”

The increase in ocean temperature can have wide-ranging repercussions, for both sea and land life. Even the recent bushfires in Australia have been cited as an example of the warmth in the oceans playing a devastating role inland, experts have said.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here. Continue reading…

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