Oceans set another heat record in 2022, scientists warn: ScienceAlert

Oceans set another heat record in 2022, scientists warn: ScienceAlert

Oceans set another heat record in 2022, scientists warn: ScienceAlert

Another year, another climate record broken. In 2022, an international team of scientists measured the hottest global ocean temperatures in human history.

This makes 2022 the seventh year in a row that ocean temperatures have reached new highs.

The record is based on two international timelines of ocean heat data dating back to the 1950s: one by government scientists in the United States and the other by government scientists in China.

Both sets of data show that ocean waters down to 2,000 meters (about 6,600 feet) deep now absorb 10 zettajoules (JJ) more heat than in 2021. That’s 100 times more energy than the world’s electricity bill each year.

Having the so-called high specific heat capacity, water is exceptionally good at absorbing huge amounts of thermal energy without rapidly increasing the temperature. Moreover, the oceans contain a lot of water. But storing 10 ZJ in an ocean bank is not without consequences.

On Earth, the world’s oceans absorb 90 percent of the excess heat in our atmosphere, and much like a sponge absorbs water, the effect fundamentally alters the density, dynamics and structure of the sea.

Today, the contrast in ocean salinity has reached an all-time high. Scientists say that in the Pacific and eastern Indian Oceans, sea water becomes much fresher. But in the mid-latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the western Indian Ocean, sea water becomes much saltier.

“Salty areas are getting saltier and fresher areas are getting fresher, so the intensity of the hydrological cycle is steadily increasing,” explains climatologist Lijing Cheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Essentially, this means that layers of ocean water aren’t mixing as they used to, and this disrupts the natural circulation of heat, carbon and oxygen from the atmosphere above.

In 2022, for example, the heat content of the upper 2,000 meters of the Pacific Ocean reached a record high “by a large margin”, the researchers say, “which confirms observed extreme events such as intense heat waves and deoxygenation and poses a significant threat to marine life in this region”.

The hash constraint most likely triggered an event known as “Blob”; a vast and persistent body of warm water in the Pacific Northwest that began circulating in 2013, devastating birds and marine life for years to come.

In 2022, the heat content of the oceans in this region reached the third highest level on record, meaning we may not have seen the last Blob.

It’s not just marine organisms that suffer.

The ocean and atmosphere are closely related, meaning that warmer or saltier waters can strongly influence global weather patterns and sea level rise.

If the warmer and saltier waters become too stratified in the ocean, there is a risk that the ocean may not be able to absorb as much carbon as it once did. Greenhouse gases would build up in the atmosphere, causing severe climate impacts.

Earth’s salt water bodies have been called “the greatest ally in the fight against climate change” because they serve as a bulletproof vest against the worst climate blows. But there are only so many hits the ocean can take before it too collapses.

Despite warning after warning, very little action has been taken to curb the steady rise in greenhouse gas emissions, meaning the oceans continue to absorb our worsening pollution.

Since the 1980s, scientists have discovered a three- to four-fold increase in the rate of ocean warming. In 2022, the level of stratification measured in ocean waters was among the top seven in history.

“Until we reach net-zero emissions, heating will continue and we will continue to break ocean heat content records, as we did this year,” says climate scientist Michael Mann of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Improved awareness and understanding of the oceans are at the heart of efforts to combat climate change.”

Extreme climate is our reality and our future. How extreme is up to us.

The study was published in Advances in atmospheric science.

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