An international collaboration of scientists has published some extremely alarming data regarding the state of the oceans. The oceans have never been hotter and continue to accumulate a terrifying amount of heat.
Despite the presence of La Niña across 2020 and 2021 – which means cooler conditions in the Pacific – the heating trend continues, making this the hottest the world’s oceans have been for the sixth year in a row.
The data analysis was performed by 23 researchers from 14 different institutions globally and was published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. The data came from two sources: the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and from the National Centers for Environmental Information of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And it paints a terrifying picture.
Last year, marked a dramatic increase with respect to 2020, as the top layer of the oceans absorbed 70 percent more heat, or 14 sextillion joules, than the year before. That means that the top 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) absorbed 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules more. That’s like 1 percent of the energy released by the Chicxulub impact, which led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Or like 30 Hiroshima nuclear bombs being released every second for a year.
In the most conservative estimates, the ocean absorbed 227 sextillion joules of heat more than the 1981-2010 average in the last calendar year.
“The ocean heat content is relentlessly increasing, globally, and this is a primary indicator of human-induced climate change,” paper author Dr Kevin Trenberth, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said in a statement. “In this most recent report, we updated observations of the ocean through 2021, while also revisiting and reprocessing earlier data.”
The data shows unequivocally that the extra heat absorbed is due to the climate crisis. The team actually highlights that the data shows significant ocean warming since the late 1950s and just four years of observations are needed to show that human effects have overtaken natural variations.
“As well as absorbing heat, currently, the ocean absorbs 20 to 30% of human carbon dioxide emissions, leading to ocean acidification; however, ocean warming reduces the efficiency of oceanic carbon uptake and leaves more carbon dioxide in the air,” said Lijing Cheng, lead paper author and associate professor with the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at IAP CAS. “Monitoring and understanding the heat and carbon coupling in the future are important to track climate change mitigation goals.”
Warmer oceans mean more marine heatwaves, which are catastrophic for sea life. It also means sea level rises and an increased ability for these vast bodies of water to supercharge weather systems. That, in turn, creates more powerful storms and hurricanes, leading to higher precipitation and floods.
“The oceans are absorbing most of the heating from human carbon emissions,” said paper author Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University. “Until we reach net zero emissions, that heating will continue, and we’ll continue to break ocean heat content records, as we did this year. Better awareness and understanding of the oceans are a basis for the actions to combat climate change.”