Ocean warming is continuing at record-setting speed

Posted Jan 14, 2020 by Karen Graham
The world's oceans are warming at a rapidly increasing pace, new research shows, and the heat is having devastating effects on marine life and intensifying extreme weather.
The dazzling turquoise waters and coral reefs off Egypt's Red Sea coast attract scuba divers  b...
The dazzling turquoise waters and coral reefs off Egypt's Red Sea coast attract scuba divers, but plastic trash and global warming threaten the fragile marine ecosystem.
Mohamed el-Shahed, AFP/File
Last year, according to Inside Climate News, the oceans were warmer than at any time since measurements began over 60 years ago. This could have devastating effects on the environment.
The new study, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, is the first to analyze ocean temperatures for 2019, and was based on two independent data sets and used a new way of filling data gaps to measure ocean temperatures going back to the 1950s.
Bleaching in 2016-2017 affected up to half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef
Bleaching in 2016-2017 affected up to half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef
Researchers found that between 1987-2019, ocean warming was 450 percent greater than during the earlier time period. Lijing Cheng, the paper's lead author and an associate professor at the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his colleagues used a common energy unit, the joule, used in physics to get their measurements.
A joule is the International System unit of electrical, mechanical, and thermal energy. One joule is equal to the work done when a force of one newton acts over a distance of one meter. The SI prefix "zetta" represents a factor of 1021, or in exponential notation, 1E21. So 1 zettajoule = 1021 joules.
Using the joule in their measurements, the research team found that the oceans absorbed 228 sextillion joules of heat in the past 25 years. That's equivalent to adding the energy of 3.6 billion Hiroshima-size atom bomb explosions to the oceans.
Cheng, et al, 2020
It's "irrefutable proof of global warming" that leaves no other explanation aside from the effects of human-caused heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution, Cheng said.
"There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat-trapping gases to explain this heating," Cheng said, adding that to reach this temperature, the ocean would have taken in 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 -- or 228 sextillions - joules of heat.
"The Hiroshima atom-bomb exploded with an energy of about 63,000,000,000,000 Joules," Cheng said. "I did a calculation ... the amount of heat we have put in the world's oceans in the past 25 years is equal to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions," he added.
The Mudd neighborhood  where many Haitian migrants lived  was decimated by Hurricane Dorian
The Mudd neighborhood, where many Haitian migrants lived, was decimated by Hurricane Dorian
Brendan Smialowski, AFP/File
Impacts of Ocean warming
Like the canary in a coal mine, the oceans serve a similar purpose - as an indicator of the real impact of climate change. After all, the oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface and absorb the majority of the planet's heat.
Since 1970, more than 90 percent of the planet's excess heat went into the oceans, while less than 4 percent was absorbed by the atmosphere and the land, the study said. However, just because we humans live on land, it does not mean we are immune to the effects coming from the warming ocean waters.
Warmer sea water can lead to greater quantities of algae  which kill others species by consuming oxy...
Warmer sea water can lead to greater quantities of algae, which kill others species by consuming oxygen in the water or filling it with toxins
Alvaro Vidal, AFP
Besides the marine heatwaves that kill fish, coral reefs and other marine animals, Ocean heat also fuels hurricanes and coastal downpours, spawns harmful toxin-producing algal blooms and also contributes to heat waves on land, said study co-author Kevin Trenberth, with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
"The ocean heat content changes are the primary memory of global warming," he said. "This manifestation of global warming has major consequences." Abraham added, "It is critical to understand how fast things are changing."
"If the leaders of the world changed course, a revolution could take place over about 15 years ... this requires the leaders of China, and the US in particular, along with Europe, to take a strong leadership role and set the stage for the rest of the world to follow," he said.