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How Quickly Are the Oceans Warming up?

Updated Mar 05, 2024
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You won't hear any explosions or see any mushroom clouds, but the results are the same: The world's oceans are warming at a rate equivalent to being barraged with five Hiroshima-type atomic bomb detonations every second.

That fact comes courtesy of a team of international scientists who examined approximately 70 years of water temperatures from the surface of the seas to a depth of 6,560 feet (2,000 m).

Not only have temperatures over the past decade been the warmest ever recorded, but the increases are accelerating more rapidly than ever before. The warming trend between 1987 and 2019 was 450% greater than the trend between 1955 and 1986.

Kevin Trenberth of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research said there's only one explanation for the ever-increasing temperatures: people. "The upward trend is relentless, and so we can say with confidence that most of the warming is man-made climate change," he said.

While continuing at this alarming rate poses devastating consequences for all life on Earth, the scientists said the future is still open to change. "If we can reduce emissions, we can reduce the warming level, and then reduce the associated risks and losses," said Lijing Cheng, the lead author of the research published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

We're in hot water:

  • Americans make up 4 percent of the global population but produce 25 percent of the carbon dioxide that is accelerating global warming.

  • Global sea levels have climbed by approximately 8 inches (20.3 cm) since 1870.

  • The Southern Ocean has been hardest hit by warming, absorbing about 43 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and three-quarters of the heat.

Frequently Asked Questions

How fast are the oceans warming?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the world's oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat from global warming, with the top few meters of the ocean warming by more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. This warming is not uniform, with some areas warming faster than others.

What are the consequences of ocean warming?

Ocean warming leads to sea level rise due to thermal expansion and melting ice, more intense and frequent extreme weather events, coral bleaching, and disruptions to marine ecosystems. It also affects ocean currents and can lead to the release of methane from the ocean floor, further exacerbating climate change.

Why is ocean warming a concern for marine life?

Marine species are highly sensitive to temperature changes. Warming oceans can lead to habitat loss, altered food web dynamics, and reduced biodiversity. Species that cannot adapt or migrate may face extinction. For example, warmer waters have been linked to mass bleaching events in coral reefs, which are crucial for marine biodiversity.

Can ocean warming be reversed?

Reversing ocean warming would require significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. While some effects may be irreversible, concerted global efforts to reduce emissions and protect marine environments can slow the rate of warming and help ecosystems adapt. International agreements like the Paris Accord aim to limit global temperature rise.

How does ocean warming affect global climate?

Ocean warming influences global climate systems by altering weather patterns, ocean currents, and the jet stream. It can lead to more powerful storms, droughts, and unpredictable weather. The ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide decreases as it warms, reducing its role as a buffer against climate change.

What can individuals do to help combat ocean warming?

Individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by using energy-efficient appliances, reducing car travel, supporting renewable energy, and advocating for climate-friendly policies. Additionally, supporting sustainable seafood choices and marine conservation efforts can help protect ocean ecosystems from the added stress of overfishing and pollution.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1003644 — On Aug 07, 2020

It is a big lie to say that people are the only explanation to global warming. There are many other explanations. We do not know yet which explanations are true and which are false. But there are certainly more than one explanation.

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