Still record sea temperatures seen again in 2022

Still record sea temperatures seen again in 2022

The ocean is home to millions of Earth’s plants and animals. People travel on the sea and rely on the resources it contains. Credit: Lijing Cheng

Still record-breaking sea temperatures with increasing stratification and changes in salinity patterns in the water provide insight into what the future holds in the midst of a constantly warm climate.

The condition of our oceans can measure the health of the world, and judging by the updated ocean observations from 24 scientists across 16 institutes worldwide, we need a doctor. The three key indicators of climate change include continued historically record high temperatures, all-time high levels of ocean salinity contrast, and increased ocean stratification (separation of the water into layers) with no sign of abating. These indicators guide scientists to quickly address and predict future components of climate change to better prepare the public for an extreme climate future ahead.

A new 0-2000m ocean heat content (OHC) record was set and recorded in 2022, introducing about 10 Zetta joules (ZJ) more heat into the ocean than had been in 2021. A Zetta joule is a joule ( a unit that measuring “work” or “heat”) with 21 trailing zeros.

The results were published on 11 January 2023 in Advances in Atmospheric Science. It summarizes two international data sets: from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which analyze observations of ocean heat content and their influence from the 1950s.

“Both the IAP and NCEI data show a consistent message that the upper 2,000 meters of ocean heat content will hit a record high in 2022,” said NCEI/NOAA senior scientist Tim Boyer.

A measure of 10 ZJ of heat is equivalent to about 100 times the world’s electricity production in 2021 (28,466 TWH), about 325 times China’s 2021 electricity production (8,537 TWH), and almost 634 times the United States’ 2021 electricity production (4,381 TWH). Ten ZJ heat can also boil 700 million 1.5L boilers for every second in the past year.

“Global warming continues and is manifested in record high ocean heat, and also in continued extreme salinity. The latter highlight[s] that saline areas become saltier, and fresh areas become fresher, and therefore there is a continuous increase in the intensity of the hydrological cycle,” said Lijing Cheng, lead author and researcher for IAP/CAS.

What is not difficult to understand is how the amount of heat that goes out into the oceans will have serious consequences, and it will actually happen much faster than one would hope. The increasing salinity and resulting stratification of the oceans could change how heat, carbon and oxygen are exchanged between the ocean and the atmosphere above it. This is a factor that can cause deoxygenation of the ocean, or loss of oxygen, in the water. Deoxygenation itself is a nightmare for not only marine life and ecosystems, but also for humans and our terrestrial ecosystems.

Reducing marine diversity and displacing important species can wreak havoc on fish-dependent communities and their economies, and this can have a ripple effect on the way most people are able to interact with the environment.

Some places are already seeing the effects of a rapidly warming ocean, and they’re not exactly as expected.

“Some places are experiencing more drought, leading to an increased risk of wildfires, and other places are experiencing massive flooding from heavy rainfall, often supported by increased evaporation from warm oceans. This contributes to changes in the hydrological cycle and emphasizes the interactive role that ocean plays,” said Kevin Trenberth, third author of the paper and a researcher at both the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Auckland. An increase in water temperatures and salinity directly contributes to stratification of water rather than mixing, and this is only part of what throws off the delicate balance between ocean and atmosphere.

“In the future, the group will focus on understanding the changes in the Earth’s major cycles and improving future forecasts of the Earth’s heat, water and carbon changes. This is the basis for human[s] to prepare for future changes and risks,” said John Abraham, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, the second author of this study.

Continued tracking of these changes will give scientists an idea of ​​what can be done preventively to prepare for higher temperatures, extreme weather and all the other consequences that come with warming oceans and an affected hydrological cycle.

“The oceans absorb most of the warming from human carbon emissions,” said paper author Michael Mann, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Until we reach net zero emissions, warming will continue and we will continue to break records for ocean heat content, as we did this year. Better awareness and understanding of the oceans is the basis for action to combat climate change.”

More information:
Lijing Cheng et al. Advances in Atmospheric Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s00376-023-2385-2

Provided by the Chinese Academy of Sciences

Citation: Still record-breaking ocean temperatures seen again in 2022 (2023, January 11) retrieved January 11, 2023 from

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