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Science with Jonathan Webb: Ocean temperature is warming faster than we thought
13 January 2019, 01:12 | Ross Houston
Imaginechina via APLandscape of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland Australia 2018
Ocean heat content is not bothered much by weather fluctuations that do, however, affect the surface temperatures, and it is somewhat affected by El Niño events.
"It's mainly driven by the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to human activities", Lijing said.
Ocean heat - recorded by thousands of floating robots - has been setting records repeatedly over the last decade, with 2018 expected to be the hottest year yet, displacing the 2017 record, according to an analysis by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"Ocean heating is a very important indicator of climate change, and we have robust evidence that it is warming more rapidly than we thought", said co-author Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley.
Warmer ocean water also raises sea levels by melting ice, including around the edges of Antarctica and Greenland.
The oceans are warming at a faster rate than was thought, according to the biggest analysis of sea temperatures so far. Ocean temperatures cited in the paper are recorded using the Argo network comprised of nearly 4,000 robot floats that stay on the surface most of the time but dive to 2,000 meters every few days to measure ocean temperature, pH, salinity, and other details.
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About 93% of excess heat accumulates in the world's oceans, threatening marine life and a major food supply for the planet.
Prior to Argo, ocean temperature data was sparse at best, relying on devices called expendable bathythermographs that sank to the depths only once, transmitting data until settling into watery graves.
Overall, temperatures in the ocean down to 2,000 metres rose about 0.1 degree Celsius (0.18F) from 1971-2010, he said.
Mr Hausfather said: "While 2018 will be the fourth warmest year on record on the surface, it will most certainly be the warmest year on record in the oceans, as was 2017 and 2016 before that". These results demonstrate that earlier claims of a global warming slowdown since 2004 weren't necessarily accurate, since heat trapped from greenhouse gases has increased ocean temperatures. The scientists reached that conclusion thanks to about 4,000 buoys deployed in the oceans since 2000 that have measured more ocean warming since 1971 than the United Nations latest estimates, from 2013, revealed.
The prediction is over four times more than estimates from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggesting the oceans were taking up around 8 Zetajoules of energy each year - an "8" followed by a whopping 21 zeros. In addition, the warming of sea water leads to a further destruction of the coral reefs and reduces the oxygen content in the oceans.
A warmer ocean also contributes to increases in rainfall and leads to stronger and longer-lasting storms like Hurricanes Florence and Harvey.
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