Recent data suggests climate change has slowed slightly, giving some the impression that anthropogenic climate change is not a clear and present danger. New research from The Earth Institute at Columbia University published in the current issue of Science shows that warming hasn’t slowed, it merely shifted into the oceans. The data shows that in the last 60 years, the oceans have been warming faster than they have for the last 10,000 years.
In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IUPCC) released a report showing that global warming had appeared to slow down over the last 15 years. They also point out that 1998 was unusually warm by modern standards and was sure to skew future average temperatures that included it as a data point. Climatologists had attributed the slowdown to natural phenomena such as volcanic activity and fluctuations in the sun’s intensity.
Many climate scientists agree that the oceans have had to bear the brunt of greenhouse emissions from the last 40 years. The full extent of this, however, was not fully understood until recently. It appears that the oceans are storing much more manmade emissions than previously thought.
For the most part, temperatures in the Pacific Ocean have stayed relatively consistent and even have periods of cooling until as recently as 900 years ago. While temperatures have climbed since then, it was only a slight 1 degree C or 2 degree F increase. In the past 60 years, however, temperatures began to climb 0.18 degrees C; 0.32 degrees F. These numbers may look minuscule, but that means the ocean temperature is increasing 15 times faster than it has since wooly mammoths roamed the Earth.
Some scientists think that the pause in surface temperature warming could be attributed to extended La Niña cooling in the surface of the eastern Pacific Ocean. This summer, a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography described La Niña’s ability to mitigate global warming during the winter months in the northern hemisphere while the summers heat normally. This explains the loss of Arctic ice and record summer temperatures in the United States, while overall temperatures did not seem extraordinary.
La Niña cycles traditionally last about 9-12 months, though the most recent cycle lasted from June 2010 until April 2012. When that cycle ends, the El Niño phase can begin, which is warmer side of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. These events run in 3-6 year intervals. El Niño can help cause jumps in global temperature after a relatively stable period. Climate scientists state that global temperature and warming rates do not gradually increase from one year to the next, but can jump and the pause, like a staircase.
This study adds another piece to the total climate change puzzle. This information will be added to other factors, such as surface temperature, ice cover, snow levels, and water vapor levels in the atmosphere to give climatologists the most complete view of the changing conditions here on Earth.