Earth’s oceans are warmer now than at any point since humans started systematically tracking their temperatures, according to research published on January 16 in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. The oceans have sopped up more than 90 percent of the heat trapped by human-emitted greenhouse gases, slowing the warming of the atmosphere—but causing many other unwelcome changes to the planet’s climate.
Even a slightly warmer ocean can have dramatic impacts. Other new research shows that warmer oceans make waves stronger. Warmer waters fuel stronger storms, increasing the damage that hurricanes and tropical storms inflict. The added warmth hurts coral habitats and stresses fisheries. Around Antarctica, yet another new study suggests, ice is melting about six times faster than it was in the 1980s—an increase due in part to the warmer waters lapping at the continent’s edge.
“The oceans are the best thermometer we have for the planet,” says Zeke Hausfather, an energy and climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who used the ocean heat data published today in an analysis published last week in Science. “We can really see global warming loud and clear in the ocean record.”
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