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The latest research shows ocean temperatures are rising faster than predicted just 5 years ago. Should we be concerned?

Climate Change

Oceans Are Warming 40% Faster Than Predicted

The latest research shows ocean temperatures are rising faster than predicted just 5 years ago. Should we be concerned?

News Flash! The oceans are warming 40% faster than predicted just a few years ago. That finding is contained in a new study published January 11 in the journal Science. We now return you to our usual programming, already in progress. Go back to sleep, Mr. President. Nothing to see here. Move along.

ocean warming

For those of you interested in hearing more about this report, Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study, tells the New York Times, “2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans. As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year. Oceans are really the best thermometer we have for changes in the Earth.”

So the oceans get a little warmer. So what? That just means the water won’t be so darned cold when we go the beach, right? We can just walk right in instead of freezing our cajones off. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Actually, the researchers say the oceans absorb 93% of the heat from the sun. The latest studies suggest their ability to absorb more heat is rapidly coming to an end.

When that happens, the atmosphere will get hotter than it is already, making the effects of a warming planet even greater. Faster ice melt, more desertification, more powerful storms, greater rainfall, and of course rising sea levels. The world’s oceans are at a tipping point. Think of it like a pot of water heating on a stove. It looks just like any other pot of water right up until it begins to boil. Then suddenly, in just a few seconds, it becomes a steaming, bubbling cauldron.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” says Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”

How Do You Measure The Temperature Of The Oceans?

Climate deniers will immediately attack the scientists who prepared the latest studies. The oceans are vast. It’s impossible to record and track their temperature accurately so the results are inherently suspect. Just a bunch of greedy folks traipsing around the world on holiday, hoping to suck some dollars out of the government to support there desire not to have a real job like flipping burgers or stocking shelves like other people do.

Well, actually, they have a point. Measuring the temperature of the oceans is really, really hard. It is like playing three dimensional chess because temperatures vary according to depth as well as surface area. And any measurement is only as good as the tools used to perform the task.

Not so long ago, researchers towed actual thermometers behind ships and recorded their findings. Today, scientists use a fleet of floating electronic buoys that are part of the Argo network. These buoys rise and fall over a period of days, then float to the surface where they transmit the data collected back to researchers via satellite.

Lijing Cheng of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Beijing is the lead author of the latest study. He says the waters closest to the surface have heated up the most and that warming has accelerated over the past two decades.  This latest data indicated the rate of temperature rise is 40% greater than IPCC estimated it would be in a report issued in 2014.

Effects Of Warmer Oceans

We hear a lot about rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers and ice caps. Few people realize that much of the increase in ocean levels so far has been caused by one of the laws of nature. Warm water takes up more space than cold water. That means most of the rise in water levels recorded to date is due to warmer oceans. The increase from melting ice will come later.

Warmer oceans have implications far beyond more powerful storms and the loss of coral reefs. Dr. Pinsky at Rutgers says, “As the ocean heats up, it’s driving fish into new places, and we’re already seeing that that’s driving conflict between countries. It’s spilling over far beyond just fish. It’s turned into trade wars. It’s turned into diplomatic disputes. It’s led to a breakdown in international relations in some cases.”

Oh, great. Another reason for humans to break into warring clans instead of banding together to combat a common threat. Is there nothing in the human psyche that permits reason to override fear of our own species? You can probably figure out the answer to that question even if you are not a trained psychologist.

Cautious Optimism

Even in the face of these latest findings, Zeke Hausfather is cautiously optimistic, saying efforts to mitigate global warming, including the 2015 Paris climate agreement, will help. “I think there’s some reason for confidence that we’ll avoid the worst-case outcomes, even if we’re not on track for the outcomes we want.” As my old Irish grandmother would say, “Hope is not a plan.”

Globalization graphic

Hat tip to CT community member Agelbert

One rational strategy going forward would be to stop electing politicians who propagate the lies about how climate science is all a bunch of hooey designed to destroy the free enterprise system. There will be no free enterprise system if all the customers who need to buy things to keep the money machine functioning are dead.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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