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The Oceans Are Warming Even Faster Than Researchers Thought

New research published in the peer-reviewed journal Science has found that the world’s oceans are warming at a much faster rate than was previously estimated. According to the recently published report, the oceans are warming 40 percent faster than they were estimated to by a United Nations panel just five years ago.

The increase in ocean temperature is the result of heat trapped by greenhouse gases — and serves a strong indication of global warming, according to graduate student Zeke Hausfather, one of the co-authors of the paper. “If you want to see where global warming is happening, look in our oceans,” said Hausfather, who is pursuing his studies in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. “Ocean heating is a very important indicator of climate change, and we have robust evidence that it is warming more rapidly than we thought.”

As a press release published about the findings explained, “Ocean heating is a critical marker of climate change because an estimated 93 percent of the excess solar energy trapped by greenhouse gases accumulates in the world’s oceans. And, unlike surface temperatures, ocean temperatures are not affected by year-to-year variations caused by climate events like El Nino or volcanic eruptions.”

Assuming that nothing will be done to counter the rising temperature, the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 models predict that the top 2,000 meters of the world’s oceans will rise 0.78 degrees Celsius by the end of the century; while the amount may seem minor, the thermal expansion that would be caused by the increase could have serious effects — raising the sea levels by a foot — in addition to the rising sea levels caused by the melting glaciers.

Warming oceans also create stronger storms, hurricanes, and extreme weather situations.

With the new findings — which correct the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report — researchers are optimistic that proper action can be taken to try to combat the alarming changes.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2013, showed that leading climate change models seemed to predict a much faster increase in ocean heat content over the last 30 years than was seen in observations,” Hausfather explained. “That was a problem, because of all things, that is one thing we really hope the models will get right. The fact that these corrected records now do agree with climate models is encouraging in that it removes an area of big uncertainty that we previously had.

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