It has been clear for a while that the planet is warming. Human activity has contributed to the ever-increasing release of carbon dioxide in the air, and that increased CO2 traps heat, warming the planet. A great deal of that extra heat ends up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and natural currents. And, as if all of this was not bad enough, new research is saying that all of this is happening at a rate thirteen percent faster than previously believed.
The new study, published in Scientific Advances, has reevaluated data collected from 1960 – 2015 regarding the temperature of the ocean. Before 2015, ocean temperature data was collected using devices called bathythermographs that recorded the data from 285 meters (935 feet) below the surface. The devices were not only limited to the depths they could travel, but were also only placed along specific shipping routes. Now, researchers collect ocean temperature data using the Argo float system. The Argo system is a global array of 3,800 floating sensors that can automatically dive to depths of up to 2,000 meters (more than 6,561 feet).
Professor of thermal and fluid sciences at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering and a co-author of the study, John Abraham, explained the process of revising the data in an article for The Guardian. It involved correcting data bias, advanced climate models, data extrapolation, and matching and comparing to recently observed temperatures.
The results of this research were shocking. According to Abraham, “One main outcome of the study is that it shows we are warming about 13% faster than we previously thought. Not only that but the warming has accelerated.” Warmer waters lead to faster thawing of the massive ice sheets at our poles, thus contributing to rising sea levels. Vulnerable areas across the world could be subject to sea levels rising up to nearly 61 meters (200 feet).
The study also shows that the rising temperatures are spreading to deeper depths, and across greater distances. Such a disruption in the natural order leads to greater, more devastating storms across the globe.
This puts humanity even closer to a planetary life or death crossroads. The science of global climate change is clear, and public opinion has even finally caught up with reality. The time to act has long since begun. We must make major changes to the way we steward the Earth. A greater focus on renewable energy sources is just a start. We must revolutionize our collective society if we ever want to halt or reverse the damage we have done and continue to do to our home.