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The warming of the oceans has accelerated since 1991, according to a study by the University of California.

Oceans are warming faster than we thought, according to an investigation

WORLDWIDE
Friday, January 11, 2019, 23:50 (GMT + 9)

A new study from the University of California reveals the rate of ocean warming has accelerated significantly since 1991, and is increasing much faster than previously recorded, and it is rising much faster than what was recorded.

About 93 percent of the energy from climate change is stored in the oceans. (Getty Images: Hoberman Collection)

According to the research, in the period between 1991 to 2010, the ocean warmed, on average, more than five times faster than in the 1971 to 1990 period.

The research, which was published in the journal Science, suggests that previous data on ocean warming had underestimated how steep the trend was, according to study co-author Zeke Hausfather of the University of California.

"Our best estimate is that the rate of warming since the 1970s is about 40 per cent faster than was reported in the estimates published in the last IPCC report," study co-author Zeke Hausfather, from the University of California, explained.

The position of the floating data transmission of Argo in the 30 days until January 8, 2019. Supplied: University of California San Diego

The reason why the rate of ocean warming appeared to be lower because of the lack of historical temperature data for large areas of the ocean.

The thermal expansion of the warmer oceans could add up to 30 cm to sea level in the projections of the worst scenario. (Getty Images: Brook Mitchell)

Since 2005, Argo ,a network of more than 3,900 free-drifting measuring probes, has provided a much more comprehensive picture of ocean temperatures, and is now allowing scientists to accurately gauge the historical warming for parts of the ocean where we don't have historical data.

The probes drift at a "parking depth" of around 1,000 metres, and every 10 days they dive to 2,000 metres before ascending to the surface, and they're taking around 200 temperature, pressure, depth and conductivity measurements. When they hit the surface, they beam their measurements to satellites, then deflate their buoyancy bladder and sink back down to 1,000 metres to repeat the cycle.

Understanding why our Earth system is warming

Now, thanks to data coverage of Argo, scientists are able to fill in the gaps in historic data points.

Water takes much more energy to heat up than the atmosphere, and holds onto that energy far more effectively than air. The oceans contain 93 per cent of the extra energy that is stored in the climate system as a result of climate change. 

Even if we were able to cut our emissions to zero today, the oceans will act like a hot-water bottle — they'll be warming our atmosphere for decades or centuries to come.

As ocean temperatures rise, serious consequences are expected, such as further sea level rise and more extreme tropical cyclones.

When water heats up, it expands. Under worst-case-scenario projections, the expansion of the oceans due to warming will add around 30 centimetres to sea-level rise by 2100.

"Warming in the ocean affects things like coral bleaching which we know a lot about. But more recently it's becoming clear that there are other important impacts including melting of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and even the amount of rain that falls in a hurricane," said Steve Rintoul to ABC News, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (SCIRO), that didn´t participate in the study.

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