Despite the COVID related decrease in global carbon emissions, ocean temperatures hit the hottest on record in 2020
According to information gathered by 20 scientists across 13 institutes, 2020 reported the highest ocean temperatures since 1955. The ocean impacts animals, humans, floods and fires in a way that can only be described as biblical.
When it experiences a minor change of temperature, everything is impacted. What about a major change?
The scientists explain that the only reason the ocean isn’t boiling is due to its “vast” size, which forces the water to release energy slowly. However slowly this energy is transferred, it is firmly predicted to bring increasing devastation to the ecosystem and humanity.
‘Paints a picture of long-term global warming’
“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,” said Lijing Cheng, lead paper author and associate professor with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP).
“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.”
The new amount of heat could boil 1.3 billion kettles
The researchers found that in 2020, the upper 2,000 metres of the world’s oceans absorbed 20 more Zettajoules than in 2019. That amount of heat could boil 1.3 billion kettles, each containing 1.5 litres of water.
Discussing the zero-carbon push seen in various regions of the world, Cheng said: “Any activities or agreements to address global warming must be coupled with the understanding that the ocean has already absorbed an immense amount of heat and will continue to absorb excess energy in the Earth’s system until atmospheric carbon levels are significantly lowered.”
The researchers reported other effects, such as ocean salinity pattern amplification and more stratification due to the upper layer warming quicker than the deeper sections. Both changes could cause harm to ocean ecosystems. When the ocean’s ecosystems are harmed, there is a higher chance of wildfires on nearby coasts.
Cheng said: “Extreme fires like those witnessed in 2020 will become even more common in the future. Warmer oceans also make storms more powerful, particularly typhoons and hurricanes.”
Kristy Dahl, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), wrote about the sinister normality of wildfires: “For my children, who have grown up in this state, it is normal to see ash raining down from metallic yellow skies in July. It is normal to have recess indoors because the air is unfit for little lungs.