Record heat in world’s oceans is “dire” warning on climate crisis.

The heat in the world’s oceans reached a record level in 2019. The world’s oceans are the clearest measure of the climate emergency because they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activities. The new analysis shows the past five years are the five warmest recorded in the oceans and the past ten years are also the top ten on record. The amount of heat being added to the oceans is equivalent to every person on the planet running 100 microwave ovens all day and night. Hotter oceans lead to more severe storms and disrupt the water cycle, meaning more floods, droughts and wildfires, as well as an inexorable rise in sea levels. Higher temperatures are also harming life in the seas, with the number of marine heatwaves increasing sharply. The most common measure of global heating is the average surface air temperature, as this is where people live. But natural climate phenomena such as El Nino events mean that this can be quite variable from year to year.

“The oceans are really what tells you how fast the earth is warming” said Professor John Abraham at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota, one of the team behind the new analysis. “Using the oceans, we see a continuous, uninterrupted and accelerating warming rate of planet earth. This is dire news.” The analysis, published in the journal, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, uses ocean data from every available source. Most data is from 3,800 free-drifting Argo floats dispersed across the oceans, but more comes from torpedo-like bathy-thermographs dropped from ships. The results show heat increasing at an accelerating rate as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. The rate from 1987 to 2019 is four and a half times faster than that from 1955 to 1986. “When the world and oceans heat up, it changes the way rain falls and evaporates. There is a general rule of thumb that dry areas are going to get drier and wetter areas are going to get wetter – and rainfall will happen in more violent downbursts”.

Is the record heat a tipping point?

Some scientists think the world may already have crossed a series of tipping points. If so, the build-up of heat in the oceans shows why.

Can anything be done?

Yes. The way to tackle the climate emergency is to stop emitting greenhouse gases. That means a rapid end to fossil fuel burning, plus the regeneration of forests and cutting emissions from farming, in particular from cattle.There is no time to lose. Damian Carrington, The Guardian.

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