Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming

The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead, according to new research published Wednesday.

Over the past quarter-century, the Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published in the journal Nature. The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by the Earth’s atmosphere — more than 8 times the world’s energy consumption, year after year.

In the scientific realm, the new findings help to resolve long-running doubts about the rate of the warming of the oceans before 2007, when reliable measurements from devices called “Argo floats” were put to use worldwide. Before that, different types of temperature records — and an overall lack of them — contributed to murkiness about how quickly the oceans were heating up.

The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within the Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming itself is more advanced than scientists thought.

Wednesday’s study also could have important policy implications. If ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than previously calculated, that could leave nations even less time to dramatically cut the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide.

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Correction from researchers

 

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