Ocean temperatures hit unwanted record


Temperatures climb higher and more rapidly than predicted, sparking concerns. Samantha Page reports.


The world's oceans can absorb enormous amounts of energy - but at a growing cost.

The world's oceans can absorb enormous amounts of energy - but at a growing cost.

Josh Berry-Walker / EyeEm/Getty Images

2018 was the hottest year on record for the world’s oceans, new research reveals.

Ocean temperatures, measured in the upper 2000 metres of the surface, are “direct evidence” of continued global warming, the researchers say. They are also rising faster than previously expected.

“The new data, together with a rich body of literature, serve as an additional warning to both the government and the general public that we are experiencing inevitable global warming,” says the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Lijing Cheng, lead author of the new report, which appears in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

Warming has “already taken place and caused serious damage and losses to both the economy and society,” he adds.

2018 now tops 2017 as the warmest year for the ocean in modern records, followed by years 2015, 2016 and 2014.

The full report comes on the heels of an analysis by Cheng’s team recently published analysis in the journal Science, which showed that the oceans have warmed much faster than earlier predictions indicated.

According to the researchers, about 93% of the energy imbalance in the world is absorbed into the ocean as heat. The increase from 2017 to 2018 was equivalent to approximately 388 times more than the total electricity generated by China in 2017 and about 100 million times more than the heat of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

The new data comes from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and is consistent with other data collections.

The seas may be absorbing the bulk of global warming, which scientists have determined is due to human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases, but the repercussions of that warming are not felt only by the oceanic biosphere.

Warming oceans contribute to sea-ice loss, which in turn leads to rising ocean levels. Sea surface temperature has also been found to correlate with stronger, wetter storms. For instance, climate change is thought to have helped power the record rainfall of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which flooded the US city of Houston, killing 107 people and causing $175 billion in damages.

Meanwhile, a new study finds that “global wave power” (GWP) has increased 0.4% per year since 1948, driven by increasingly warmer water.

“Oceanic warming in the different basins has likely led to an increase in GWP through the influence of [sea surface temperature] on wind patterns,” write Borja Reguero, Iñigo Losada and Fernando Méndez in the journal Nature Communications.

“Wind-generated ocean waves drive important coastal processes that determine flooding and erosion,” they note.

  1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00376-019-8276-x
  2. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6423/128.summary
  3. https://cosmosmagazine.com/climate/the-467-hazards-of-climate-change
  4. https://cosmosmagazine.com/climate/arctic-sea-ice-outlook-at-worst-point-in-125-000-years
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/science/global-warming-extreme-storms.html
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Harvey
  7. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-08066-0
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