Investigators at the Columbia University Earth Institute discovered in a new study that the world's oceans are taking up a lot of the residual heat produced by global warming. The team warns that storing heat in this manner could have unpredictable effects on the environment once it is released.
Over the last year, the major telltale signs of global warming have displayed reduced levels of activity, allowing some skeptics to speculate that human activity and industrial carbon emissions are not responsible for producing climate change.
For from adhering to this line of thought, the new investigation highlights how the middle layers of the ocean have warmed 15 times faster in the last 60 years than any other time over the past 10,000 years. In the study, the team reconstructed the temperature history of the Pacific Ocean.
Experts learned that the waters are currently getting warmer faster than they did during apparent natural warming cycles that occurred over the past 10 millennia. Details of the investigation were published in the latest issue of the esteemed journal Science.
The recently-released UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change notes the apparent reduction in global warming rates recorded since 1998. However, that year was exceptionally hot by any standard, so taking it as a reference point may only help to skew attention from the long-term warming trend.
“We may have underestimated the efficiency of the oceans as a storehouse for heat and energy. It may buy us some time – how much time, I don’t really know. But it’s not going to stop climate change,” says Rutgers University climate scientist Yair Rosenthal, the lead author of the Science study.
“We’re experimenting by putting all this heat in the ocean without quite knowing how it’s going to come back out and affect climate. It’s not so much the magnitude of the change, but the rate of change,” adds CU Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory climate scientist Braddock Linsley.
One hypothesis seeking to explain how global warming trends dropped suggests that the prolonged La Niña event this year cooled surface waters in the Pacific, thus keeping overall temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere lower than usual.
If this is true, then experts fear that the return of El Niño, La Niña's counterpart, will cause temperatures to spike again, thus turning this year's lower overall temperatures into just another set of spikes on the long, upward trend of global warming.