Oceans Are Warming Faster Than Predicted

Up to 90 percent of the warming caused by human carbon emissions is absorbed by the world’s oceans, scientists estimate. And researchers increasingly agree that the oceans are warming faster than previously thought.

Multiple studies in the past few years have found that previous estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may be too low. A new review of the research, published this week in Science, concludes that “multiple lines of evidence from four independent groups thus now suggest a stronger observed [ocean heat content] warming.”

Taken together, the research suggests that the oceans are heating up about 40 percent faster than previously estimated by the IPCC. Since the 1950s, studies generally suggest that the oceans have been absorbing at least 10 times as much energy annually, measured in joules, as humans consume worldwide in a year.

While much of the human concern about climate change focuses on its effects over land—rising air temperatures, changes in weather patterns and so on—accurate estimates of ocean warming are deeply important to scientists’ understanding of global warming. Determining how fast the oceans are warming helps scientists calculate how sensitive the planet is to greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly it may warm in the future.

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