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Evidence Shows Global Heat May Be Hiding in Oceans

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By Tim Radford, Climate News Network

LONDON – Far below the surface, the waters of south-east Asia are heating up. A region of the Pacific is now warming at least 15 times faster than at any time in the last 10,000 years. If this finding – so far limited to the depths where the Pacific and Indian Oceans wash into each other – is true for the blue planet as a whole, then the questions of climate change take on a new urgency.

Report shows that deep ocean warming could right now be taking much of the heat that meteorologists had expected to find in the atmosphere.
Credit: Sathish J/Flickr

Yair Rosenthal of Rutgers University in New Brunswick and colleagues from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, and at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, report in the journal Science that deep ocean warming could right now be taking much of the heat that meteorologists had expected to find in the atmosphere.

In the last few years, even though greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have gone up, the rate of increase in global average temperatures has slowed and there is evidence that much of the expected heat is being absorbed by the oceans and carried beneath the surface.

Record in shells

But records of ocean temperatures are patchy, and in any case date back only half a century. Rosenthal and his colleagues decided that they could reliably calculate a pattern of temperature changes by looking at a record of deposition through time.

One little single-celled organism called Hyalinea balthica has evolved to live only at depths of 500 to 1,000 metres. H.balthica makes a microscopic shell, and when it dies, this shell falls to the ocean bottom. It takes the ingredients for the shell from the elements dissolved in the water around it, and the chemical mix available varies with temperature: the warmer the water, the greater the ratio of magnesium to calcium – and this difference is then recorded in the surviving shell.

So the marine sediments around Indonesia preserve a thermal record of changes with time. The scientists studied ocean cores to “read” a pattern of climate change over the last 10,000 years, since the end of the Ice Age. The readings from the sediments mirror a series of already-known climate shifts – a very warm spell at the end of the Ice Age, a “medieval warm period” when vineyards flourished in Britain, and a “Little Ice Age” when rivers like the Thames of London routinely froze.

So equipped with a reliable guide to change the scientists were able to make sense of the changes in the last 60 years. And they found that ocean temperatures, at such depths, had warmed 15 times faster in the last 60 years that they did during the natural warming cycles of the last 10,000.

View of the Pacific Ocean from Space. A region of the Pacific is now warming at least 15 times faster than at any time in the past 10,000 years.
Credit: NASA via Climate News Network

The research is incomplete, and its chief value may be in helping to improve the models used by climate scientists. But the implication is that the heat that should be registered in the atmosphere is now being absorbed by the deep oceans.

No cause for complacency

This does not mean that climate scientists can stop worrying about global warming. “We may have underestimated the efficiency of the oceans as a storehouse for heat and energy,” Rosenthal said. “It may buy us some time – how much time I don’t really know – to come to terms with climate change. But it’s not going to stop climate change.”

His colleague Braddock Linsley of Lamont-Doherty said: “Our work showed that the intermediate waters in the Pacific had been cooling steadily from about 10,000 years ago. This places the recent warming of the Pacific intermediate waters in temporal context. The trend has now reversed in a big way and the deep ocean is warming.” 

Tim Radford is a reporter for Climate News Network. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.

Comments

By Sue Spencer (West Henrietta, NY 14586)
on December 1st, 2013

The fact that the Ocean is being extremely overburdened by the absorption of atmospheric heat is not buying us any time whatsoever (Rosenthal said, “It may buy us some time – how much time I don’t really know – to come to terms with climate change.”)  The impacts of a rapidly warming Ocean, already in severe crisis, pose a more imminent, dire threat to Life on this Planet than a warming atmosphere.

The warming of Ocean depths is also a much more difficult, if not impossible, trend to reverse.

As a Global Community we must not waste another day and come to terms with climate change NOW.

Reply to this comment

By Eric Peterson (Front Royal, VA 22630)
on December 1st, 2013

“So equipped with a reliable guide to change the scientists were able to make sense of the changes in the last 60 years. And they found that ocean temperatures, at such depths, had warmed 15 times faster in the last 60 years that they did during the natural warming cycles of the last 10,000.”

What the study shows is that the warmth in the Medieval Warm Period and other prior warm periods was greater than today.  The study does not have definitive conclusions about the rate of warming since the resolution of the proxies is not high enough to compare short periods of time (e.g. trends of 60 years).

A blog comment by Yair confirms this: “YAIR: The deep ocean tends to average and smooth the record … I think it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely that very rapid changes on the order of, let’s say, years or even decades … would show up in the record.”

See http://judithcurry.com/2013/11/01/pacific-ocean-heat-content-for-the-past-10000-years/  for more details and discussion.

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By Steve Oregon (Portland)
on December 1st, 2013

“equipped with a reliable guide to change”
What a preposterous claim.

How can this site make such brazenly dishonest claims?

Is there no limit to the concoctedness you will peddle?

Reply to this comment

By Steve Oregon (Portland)
on December 1st, 2013

Sue,

How is it possible that you can make such gargantuan leaps of conclusion.

Sue, where in the world have you found any evidence that the “Ocean is being extremely overburdened by the absorption of atmospheric heat”

The spotty detected warming of some ocean at varied depths is far from any measure of any global trend.
It is inescapable and undeniable that ocean temperatures are in constant change as they always have.

There has been no evidence based scientific study showing a “rapidly warming Ocean”. There has been no scientifically shown severe crisis, dire threat to Life on this Planet or even a continue warming atmosphere.

If the next 10 years proceeds like the last 10 we will have a longer record showing no warming or cooling than the length of the embellished AGW record.

Dream all you want but you can’t possibly know the Oceans are warming, why they would or how they would in any irreversible direction.

There isn’t any evidence mankind can “come to terms with climate change NOW” either.

Reply to this comment

By Eric Peterson (Front Royal, VA 22630)
on December 2nd, 2013

I would first point out to Sue that the average temperature of the ocean is in the upper 30’s F or about 4C.  Much of the ocean is barely above freezing.  The ocean has warmed about 0.2C at most.  Then I would ask: how is the ocean going from nearly freezing to a tiny bit warmer than that, a crisis?

Reply to this comment

By Paul Budline (Princeton)
on December 2nd, 2013

That darned heat, it’s always in the last place you look.

Reply to this comment

By George Stevens (Ohio)
on December 2nd, 2013

Steve-
The evidence of ocean warming is very clear in the ARGO data, which is not spotty.
http://www.argo.ucsd.edu
http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/pip/2012GL051106.shtml#content
http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/figures/ocean-heat-content-calculated-based
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ocean_Heat_Content_(2012).png

Reply to this comment

By Sue Spencer (West Henrietta, NY 14586)
on December 3rd, 2013

Below is further information, Steve - source http://www.stateoftheocean.org/research.cfm

Results from the latest International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)/IUCN review of science on anthropogenic stressors on the ocean go beyond the conclusion reached last week by the UN climate change panel the IPCC that the ocean is absorbing much of the warming and unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide and warn that the cumulative impact of this with other ocean stressors is far graver than previous estimates.

Professor Alex Rogers of Somerville College, Oxford, and Scientific Director of IPSO
said: “The health of the ocean is spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we had
thought. We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more
imminent than previously anticipated. The situation should be of the gravest concern
to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to
support life on Earth.”

Also learn more at   http://lasthours.org/  Columns of methane, kilometers wide, already have been detected bubbling up from the Ocean - methane released due to Ocean warming.

Keep your head in the sand if you want but we are in trouble. 

You wrote…
“There isn’t any evidence mankind can “come to terms with climate change NOW”
Sadly and unfortunately this is very true….yet when “an international panel of marine scientists demands
urgent remedies to halt ocean degradation” (stating climate change is the number one threat) I believe we need to take immediate action and I know I am not alone.

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