Policy Update

First in Science: Oceans Absorbing More Heat Than Previously Thought

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Coastal

NCEL Point of Contact

Carlos Ochoa
Ocean Policy Manager

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With Oceans Absorbing More Energy, We Have Less Time To Curb Carbon Emissions

The oceans absorb up to 90% of the earth’s extra heat. Knowing how much the oceans have warmed helps us to further understand how much the planet is warming.

Study: Scientists have conducted research that provides new data on how much heat the oceans have absorbed. Previously, researchers have used a system of sparsely placed ocean floats to collect the temperature of the ocean. This study used a new method which calculates ocean temperature based off of the combined oxygen and carbon dioxide emissions being released from the oceans and then testing these to determine the amount of heat absorbed.

Results: As a result of this study they found the oceans have absorbed as much as 60% more heat than previously thought. Researchers previously believed the oceans had absorbed 8 zettajoules, but this new research has found the ocean absorbed 13 zettajoules of energy from 1991-2016. A zettajoule is a joule (the standard unit of energy) followed by 21 zeroes. For comparison, total energy consumption around the world is around half a zettajoule annually.

Impacts: The most recent IPCC report gave predictions and recommendations based on the assumption that the oceans had absorbed less heat. Knowing now that the oceans have absorbed 60% more energy, it makes the need to take action on climate more immediate. We have less time than thought to keep warming below 2 degrees.

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