Story at a glance

  • The research published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences reported the highest ocean temperatures since 1955 from surface level to a depth of 2,000 meters.
  • The study also found the five hottest years for the upper ocean on record have all occurred since 2015.
  • Researchers emphasized that warmer ocean waters intensify hurricanes and other storms that travel over the sea, and warmer water also expands to take up more room, causing sea level rise and coastal flooding. The disruption in rainfall patterns also leads to droughts and wildfires.

Ocean temperatures reached their highest level in recorded history last year despite the dip in global carbon emissions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study. 

The research published Wednesday in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences authored by 20 scientists from 13 institutions around the world reported the highest ocean temperatures since 1955 from surface level to a depth of 2,000 meters. The study also found the five hottest years for the upper ocean on record have all occurred since 2015. 


America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.


Researchers calculated upper ocean temperatures and salinity using data from measurement devices from the World Ocean Database, a project by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Center for Environmental Information. 

The study found that the upper 2,000 meters of the world’s oceans absorbed 20 more zettajoules, a measure of energy, than in 2019. Researchers note that the amount of heat could boil 1.3 billion kettles.

“Over 90% of the excess heat due to global warming is absorbed by the oceans, so ocean warming is a direct indicator of global warming -- the warming we have measured paints a picture of long-term global warming,” Lijing Cheng, lead author of the study and associate professor with the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement

“However, due to the ocean’s delayed response to global warming, the trends of ocean change will persist at least for several decades, so societies need to adapt to the now unavoidable consequences of our unabated warming. But there is still time to take action and reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases,” Cheng said. 

Researchers emphasized that warmer ocean waters intensify hurricanes and other storms that travel over the sea, and warmer water also expands to take up more room, causing sea level rise and coastal flooding. The disruption in rainfall patterns also leads to droughts and wildfires. 

The research follows the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record in 2020, with a record-breaking 30 named storms, 12 of which made landfall in the continental United States. The U.S. also experienced an unprecedented wildfire season, with more than 4 million acres burning in California alone. 

Last year also tied 2016 as the hottest year on record.


READ MORE LIKE THIS FROM CHANGING AMERICA

WILL GLOBAL COVID-19 LOCKDOWNS HELP THE CLIMATE CHANGE CRISIS?

MOST STATES ARE BELOW THEIR GREENHOUSE GAS REDUCTION GOALS: REPORT

THESE ARE THE 10 COUNTRIES MOST AT RISK FROM THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

THE 10 COUNTRIES MOST LIKELY TO SURVIVE THE IMMINENT THREATS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

FIRST CLIMATE WARNINGS ON GAS PUMPS TO APPEAR IN US


 

Published on Jan 13, 2021