New Research: Ocean Warming Faster than Thought, and Accelerating

January 17, 2020

Significant new research from Lijing Cheng and Kevin Trenberth.
Your intrepid reporter, of course, spoke to the scientists in December, above, and below.

Inside Climate News:

The new study, the first to analyze ocean temperatures for 2019, 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.

When the scientists compared ocean temperature data from the last three decades (1987-2019) to the three decades before that (1955-1986), they found the rate of warming had increased 450 percent, “reflecting a major increase in the rate of global climate change.”

Measured by a common energy unit used in physics, 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, said the study’s lead author, Lijing Cheng, with the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics.

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.

The warming of the oceans has widespread effects. It causes marine heat waves that kill fish and coral reefs, 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.

He linked the rising ocean heat content with ocean heat waves like the 2013 to 2015 “warm blob” in the Northeastern Pacific that resulted in a major loss of marine life, including a crash in cod populations.

“The ocean heat content changes are the primary memory of global warming,” he said. “This manifestation of global warming has major consequences.”

Trenberth, with other scientists, has documented how rising ocean heat contributes to more intense tropical storms, including hurricanes that affect the United States.

“Hurricanes pump the ocean heat content into the atmosphere in the form of moisture. That results in extreme and record rainfall from storms like Harvey and Florence. It makes for stronger and longer-lasting storms,” Trenberth said.

From 1960 to through 2019, the average temperature for the upper 2000 meters of the oceans increased by 0.12 degree Celsius, Cheng said. However, the ocean surface, where hurricanes draw their energy, and the air just above it have warmed almost 1 degree Celsius from the pre-industrial era.

The heat buildup will affect global transfer of heat via deep ocean currents.

It’s nearly irreversible, at least on a human timescale, Trenberth said.

“Imagine mixing a pot of hot and cold water in the sink. It gets warm, and you can never get the hot or the cold back,” he said.

9 Responses to “New Research: Ocean Warming Faster than Thought, and Accelerating”

  1. redskylite Says:

    So many of the scientific projections appear to have been on the conservative side, no longer are we having the luxury of the infamous 1990’s “hiatus” to appear to give us more leisurely time than we actually have to act. There are many costs to pay for an accelerating warming ocean.

    “So when nearly one million common murres died at sea and washed ashore from California to Alaska in 2015 and 2016, it was unprecedented — both for murres, and across all bird species worldwide. Scientists from the University of Washington, the U.S. Geological Survey and others blame an unexpected squeeze on the ecosystem’s food supply, brought on by a severe and long-lasting marine heat wave known as “the blob.”

    Their findings were published Jan. 15 in the journal PLOS ONE.

  2. grindupbaker Says:

    I’m measuring this latest off the Greenman plot as only 92% of my prior average after I add Purkey and Johnson 2010 below 2000 metres so I need to find more-original information and figure out what is what (if I can do that for free). Anyway, I have this (it’s 413,000 gigawatts for the last 22 years).
    The ~0.81 w/m**2 warming imbalance of the last 20 years has been analyzed as follows (4 competing analyses):
    +0.85 (13.7 Zettajoules / year) Magdalena Balmaseda’s ocean ORAS4 OHC analysis,
    +0.826 ± 0.012 (13.3 ± 0.20 Zettajoules / year) Resplandy et al, 2018 ocean with errors.
    +0.752 ± 0.045 (12.1 ± 0.72 Zettajoules / year) Resplandy et al, 2018 ocean with errors corrected.
    Resplandy et al, 2018 ocean. A totally-independent geochemical method based on the changing
    solubility of O2 and CO2 in the warming ocean.
    It was quickly found after publishing to have a
    couple of errors and this is the corrected (lower than before) trend.
    The uncertainties in this methodology are too large for this to be a definitive independent
    confirmation but further work may well reduce them.
    +0.75 Kiehl-Trenberth ocean ,
    +0.73 Ocean Heat Content NOAA ORAP5 2011 – 2019/03 It increased slightly 2011, linear to 2019
    (pentadal average)
    +0.61 Upper 2000 metres only. , Lijing Cheng et al 2020 (not included in average)
    +0.073 below 2000 metres only Purkey and Johnson 2010. (contributed by L Cheng)
    +0.68 Upper 2000 metres, Lijing Cheng et al 2020. below 2000 metres Purkey and Johnson 2010
    +0.744 ± 0.008 /0.014 Average of the latest 3 analyses above and their variation as the uncertainty.
    Also, the minor items of imbalance (ocean’s get 92.6% of the heat per the 0.744 portion of the 0.808) are:
    +0.012 Antarctica + Greenland + glaciers ice loss
    +0.006 Arctic Ocean sea ice loss (check this, I later got +0.00126 average 1980-2018, but I did that in my head so maybe I got it 1 decimal too small)
    +0.0083 Atmospheric heating
    +0.0028 Land heating to a depth of 20 feet
    +0.035 The 2018 +2.7 ppmv CO2
    +0.808 w/m**2 Total TOA warming imbalance using the ocean OHC anomaly average above.

  3. grindupbaker Says:

    It’s necessary to consider ENSO both for surface/air changes and for ocean heat content (OHC) anomaly. This means figuring out the ENSO effect when data for the latest 12 months only is compared with prior 12-monthly values. Of course, nobody ever does this in the fight as to whether a snow dump this afternoon was the biggest/coldest of something someplace or whether 25 ZJ in 12 months reflects an Earth’s ecosphere warming that’ll be 208% after 2018 of what it used to be before 2019 (I’m not going to try to incorporate ENSO adjustment either but certainly it doesn’t reflect any such vast increase because that’s physically impossible). I recommend against getting caught up in the ubiquitous cherry-picking and wildly-incorrect babbling from both teams. In the paper the phrase “Since a single annual OHC value can be impacted by internal variabilities (i.e., El Niño–Southern Oscillation, ENSO) or instrumental errors, long-term trends are much more important than any individual year for showing climate change; and such trends have been calculated in this work”. It’s the dashed line trends in plot in this post that provide the measure of warming from so-called “greenhouse gases (GHGs)” net of other forcings, not the individual red histogram bars nor the green monthly mean plot. Those are for study of interesting brief changes such as the undeniable fact from these OHC plots that during the famous 1997/98 El Nino Earth’s ecosphere was temporarily cooling as the surface/air got extra heat from the ocean, not from the Sun (the warming was overcome for a few months by the Pacific Ocean cooling to space). I find those things interesting since 7 years ago when I first saw the OHC plot.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    If you take land and atmospheric heating into account that’s the average energy of more than 5 Hiroshima bombs per second accumulated.

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