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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

New study confirms the oceans are warming rapidly

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John Abraham Monday 26 June 2017 06.00 EDT  Guardian UK  Full article here

….The most important measurement of global warming is in the oceans. In fact, “global warming” is really “ocean warming.” If you are going to measure the changing climate of the oceans, you need to have many sensors spread out across the globe that take measurements from the ocean surface to the very depths of the waters. Importantly, you need to have measurements that span decades so a long-term trend can be established.

These difficulties are tackled by oceanographers, and a significant advancement was presented in a paper just published in the journal Climate Dynamics. ….We found that regardless of whose data was used or where the data was gathered, the oceans are warming.

…In the study, we looked at the different ways that three groups make decisions about mapping, bias, and climatology. We not only asked how much the oceans are warming, but how the warming differs for various areas (ocean basins) and various depths. We found that each ocean basin has warmed significantly. Despite this fact, there are some differences amongst the three groups. For instance, in the 300-700 meter oceans depths in the Pacific and Southern oceans, significant differences are exhibited amongst the tree groups. That said, the central fact is that regardless of how you measure, who does the measurements, when or where the measurements are taken, we are warming….. it will be important that we keep high-quality temperature sensors positioned throughout the oceans so in the future we will be able to predict where our climate is headed. We say in science that a measurement not made is a measurement lost forever. And there are no more important measurements than of heating of the oceans.

Wang, G., Cheng, L., Abraham, J. et al. Consensuses and discrepancies of basin-scale ocean heat content changes in different ocean analyses Clim Dyn (2017). doi:10.1007/s00382-017-3751-5

Abstract

Inconsistent global/basin ocean heat content (OHC) changes were found in different ocean subsurface temperature analyses, especially in recent studies related to the slowdown in global surface temperature rise. This finding challenges the reliability of the ocean subsurface temperature analyses and motivates a more comprehensive inter-comparison between the analyses. Here we compare the OHC changes in three ocean analyses (Ishii, EN4 and IAP) to investigate the uncertainty in OHC in four major ocean basins from decadal to multi-decadal scales. First, all products show an increase of OHC since 1970 in each ocean basin revealing a robust warming, although the warming rates are not identical. The geographical patterns, the key modes and the vertical structure of OHC changes are consistent among the three datasets, implying that the main OHC variabilities can be robustly represented. However, large discrepancies are found in the percentage of basinal ocean heating related to the global ocean, with the largest differences in the Pacific and Southern Ocean. Meanwhile, we find a large discrepancy of ocean heat storage in different layers, especially within 300–700 m in the Pacific and Southern Oceans. Furthermore, the near surface analysis of Ishii and IAP are consistent with sea surface temperature (SST) products, but EN4 is found to underestimate the long-term trend. Compared with ocean heat storage derived from the atmospheric budget equation, all products show consistent seasonal cycles of OHC in the upper 1500 m especially during 2008 to 2012. Overall, our analyses further the understanding of the observed OHC variations, and we recommend a careful quantification of errors in the ocean analyses.

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