The world’s oceans have been warming at an unprecedented rate, far faster than scientists previously estimated. The rate of warming has almost doubled since 1992 when compared with the previous decades, and the heat has permeated deeper than ever, a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances indicated.
Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of St. Thomas and the Chinese Academy of Scientists gathered data using thousands of robotic floats to measure water temperature and salinity.
The international team found from 1960 tp 2015, ocean warming throughout the world was 13 percent greater than estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The data also showed that in the 1990s, warming began to spread deeper into the ocean: from 700 meters to 2,000 meters. While previous estimates by the IPCC showed ocean warming to account for 30 percent to 40 percent of sea level rise, the study found the figure was more like 50 percent.
“From this [study] we can better understand the effects of natural and manmade variability to the climate system,” Tim Boyer, part of NOAA’s Ocean Climate Laboratory and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “Decisionmakers can gauge what needs to be done to ameliorate the situation, or, if not that, to plan for the consequences of excess heat.”
The world’s oceans are now warmer than at any point in the last 50 years and are on track to rise by as much as 39 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated. Because oceans absorb more than 90 percent of trapped greenhouse gasses, even if emissions were halted altogether and immediately, the ocean would continue to warm for an untold number of years.
Increased water temperature brings with it increased risks, both environmental and otherwise. Rising temperatures cause glaciers and other frozen bodies of water to melt, increasing sea level exponentially and directly affecting the potential for storm surges, flooding and the destruction of coastal infrastructure.
Marine life is increasingly at risk as well. Coral bleaching caused by increased temperatures has led to up to 70 percent of corals dying off in some areas, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Many marine creatures’ metabolisms and life cycles are regulated by temperature: Any alteration in warmth could change behavioral cues and reproduction.