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Oceans not only purify the air but also absorb heat; and in the last 200 years, they have been performing that function with the gases that we humans have been emitting. Previous estimates suggested that these immense bodies of water had collectively absorbed more than 90% of the excess thermal energy. But recent research published in Nature suggests that it is worse.
Research shows that scientists have been measuring the amount of heat in the oceans incorrectly, so the waters have absorbed much more heat than previously thought. “If we think that the ocean is getting hotter than we think, it means that the Earth is warming more than we think and that it is more sensitive to our emissions,” said the study’s lead author, Business Insider. Resplandy.
Worse Than We Imagined
Scientists have long warned that we have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to avoid a future of frequent climate disasters. But Resplandy said the new findings in his report show that avoiding that future scenario will be even more difficult than anticipated.
This new reality suggests that it is even more unlikely that global warming will remain below the maximum of 2 degrees Celsius established in the Paris agreement. “Actually, this makes it harder to reach that goal,” said Resplandy.
The discovery took place because the authors of the new study were not satisfied with the information about the temperature and salinity of the ocean, which is compiled from a system of almost 4,000 ocean buoys in waters around the world, called Argo.
“All of these estimates use the same imperfect set of ocean data,” they wrote. Also, the Argo floats do not track much of what happened before 2007. So the new study measured how hot the oceans had become by looking at how much oxygen they are putting in the air at the surface. “When the ocean heats up, it loses gases and oxygen is one of them,” said Resplandy.
The team analyzed oxygen levels in the ocean and carbon dioxide (CO2) at three locations in the lower, middle and upper part of the Earth: the tip of Tasmania in Cape Grim, La Jolla, California, and Alert, Canada, only 800 kilometres from the north pole. In addition, they tracked 25 years of data, from 2016 to 1991.
They found evidence of ocean water warmer and less oxygenated than previously reported, 60% more than the estimates used in the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This means that marine life is under existential threat since lower levels of oxygen make it difficult for animals to see and keep fish and other creatures away. For example, the Sea of Japan has warmed around 1.7 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years. So some squid populations are already swimming to the north in search of cooler water with more oxygen.
Despite that, the researcher said that it is not a reason to lose hope, but that the findings should serve to duplicate efforts to save the planet. The findings suggest that we will have to reduce our emissions by an additional 25% of the previous estimates to meet the Paris target of 2 °.
“Our results suggest that it will be more difficult than we thought because the ocean is actually heating up more than we thought,” he said. “So the question is, are we willing to make that effort?” He asked. Most likely, it is not enough.