The World's Oceans Are Warming 13% Faster Than Previously Thought

Whole ecosystems will be altered if the ocean temperatures continue to rise. Rich Carey/Shutterstock

We know the planet’s oceans have been steadily warming over the past hundred years, but it seems that we may have been underestimating exactly by how much. A new study has more accurately documented just how much the world’s oceans have warmed, and let’s just say, it’s not good news people.

It turns out that we’ve been underestimating just how rapidly the oceans have been warming, which is in fact 13 percent faster than previously thought. The problems all basically center on data collected before 2005. After this point, all ocean temperature readings have been taken using a global array of 3,800 floats known as Argo.

For the first time ever, these have allowed scientists to continually measure the temperature and salinity in the upper 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) of the oceans around the globe. Before this point, however, researchers relied on bathythermographs placed along shipping routes, and have caused issues of accuracy and comparability due to their limited placements that have tended to be in the northern hemisphere.

The new study, published in the journal Scientific Advances, set out to clear up these biases and inaccuracies in the data collected between 1960 and 2015. And what they found out was not great. Not only is the ocean warming at a rate 13 percent faster than previously expected, but the warming is also accelerating. They found that the rate of warming from 1992 is roughly twice as fast as the rate of warming from 1960. The heat, it would seem, is also penetrating deeper into the oceans, going below 700 meters (2,300 feet).

The warming of the oceans may not seem like too big a problem, but can be catastrophic for the life that lives beneath the waves. The most well-publicized impact is that of coral bleaching, which is quite pertinent at the moment as the Great Barrier Reef is currently looking at an unprecedented second bleaching event in two years. The world’s largest living structure is balancing on the edge.

But the tropics are not the only part of the oceans to be affected. As temperatures warm in the northern latitudes, those fish species that prefer colder climes such as cod, are expected to start to follow the cold water and shift their ranges north.

But there are other unexpected impacts on the oceans as they warm. It has, for example, been estimated that over the last 50 years the world’s oceans have lost 2 percent of their oxygen. Again, this may not sound like much, but even slight changes in the chemical make-up of the marine environment can have drastic impacts on the life living there.

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