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Ocean Accumulated Significant Heat Content Since 1993

Posted by feww on May 20, 2010

Just How Much Warmer?

Can you imagine the power required to light on 500 100-watt light bulbs for every person on the planet (assume a population of 6.7 billion people).

That’s an estimate of how much warmer the the upper layer of the world’s ocean has become in since 1993, which points to “a strong climate change signal,” according to a new study called Robust Warming of the Global Upper Ocean.

“We are seeing the global ocean store more heat than it gives off,” said John Lyman, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, who led an international team of scientists that analyzed nine different estimates of heat content in the upper ocean from 1993 to 2008.

Current Sea Surface Temperatures


Source: SSEC/Wisc Uni. Click image to enlarge.

“The ocean is the biggest reservoir for heat in the climate system,” said Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the scientists who contributed to the study. “So as the planet warms, we’re finding that 80 to 90 percent of the increased heat ends up in the ocean.”

Global sea level rise is a direct effect of ocean warming. As the ocean heats up the seawater expands taking up more space.  The expansion is responsible for about 30% to 50%   sea level rise globally, researchers say.

“Combining multiple estimates of heat in the upper ocean – from the surface to about 2,000 feet down – the team found a strong multi-year warming trend throughout the world’s ocean. According to measurements by an array of autonomous free-floating ocean floats called Argo as well as by earlier devices called expendable bathythermographs or XBTs that were dropped from ships to obtain temperature data, ocean heat content has increased over the last 16 years.” NOAA reported.

The data, however, is subject to some “uncertainties and some biases,” researchers note.

“The XBT data give us vital information about past changes in the ocean, but they are not as accurate as the more recent Argo data,” said Gregory Johnson, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “However, our analysis of these data gives us confidence that on average, the ocean has warmed over the past decade and a half, signaling a climate imbalance.”

“Data from the array of Argo floats­ – deployed by NOAA and other U.S. and international partners ­– greatly reduce the uncertainties in estimates of ocean heat content over the past several years, the team said. There are now more than 3,200 Argo floats distributed throughout the world’s ocean sending back information via satellite on temperature, salinity, currents and other ocean properties.” NOAA said.

Related Links:

Links to Entries on Ocean Health:

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