Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters.
A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.
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[T]he rising water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.
As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Coral reefs, whose fish provide key sources of protein to millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of them have already died in the last three years. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently.
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[In a new analysis, climate scientists] assessed three recent studies . . . . The results converged at an estimate of ocean warming that was higher than the I.P.C.C. predicted and more in line with the climate models.
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The scientists who published [the studies] were not trying to make their results align . . . . “The groups who were working on ocean heat observations, they’re not climate modelers . . . . They’re not particularly concerned with whether or not their observations agree or disagree with climate models.”
Laure Zanna, an associate professor of climate physics at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study, said the new research was “a very nice summary of what we know of the ocean and how far the new estimates have come together.”
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As the oceans warm, sea levels rise because warmer water takes up more space than colder water. In fact, most of the sea-level rise observed to date is because of this warming effect, not melting ice caps.
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“We are warming the planet but the ocean is not warming evenly, so different places warm more than others,” said Zanna. “And so the first consequence will be that sea level will be different in different places depending on the warming.”