Resources for Teachers and Students
FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 04, 2019
Higher ocean temperatures are another climate change warning sign, scientists say
Find an article or photo showing how weather and climate affect our daily lives. Share an example.
Read other science or environment coverage. Tell why it's important or could affect you.
What academic training and skills does someone in a scientific or technical profession use?
Concern continues about rising average ocean temperatures. Attention is heightened by a new study that shows an accelerated rate of warming and much higher averages than experts expected. The trend could get a lot worse if nothing is done to address climate change, they say. Up to 90 percent of the warming caused by carbon emissions from factories, vehicles and other sources is absorbed by oceans, scientists estimate. Data published recently in the journal Science shows that the oceans have experienced consistent changes since the late 1950s and have gotten a lot warmer since the 1960s. They're heating up about 40 percent faster than projected in a United Nations environmental report five years ago.
The fresh data is from an international network of more than 3,000 robotic floats that dive to about 6,500 feet and resurface to continuously transmit water temperatures. Warmer water is nice for ocean swims, but causes more problems than pleasure. A warmer ocean melts more sea ice, raising coastal flood risks from higher water levels. Melting ice around Greenland and Antarctica endangers polar bears and penguins living there. It also can affect weather on our continent and others -- making winters more intense as Arctic air reaches farther south, contributing to more rain and leading to stronger, longer-lasting hurricanes. Warming of the Southern Ocean is particularly alarming because it could destabilize West Antarctica and lead to the collapse of ice sheets -- a development that may raise global sea levels by 10 feet.
There’s also a severe impact on offshore coral reefs, which provide fish habitats and recreational diving attractions. Coral reefs are vanishing rapidly and will be gone entirely within your lifetime. Speaking of marine life, warming seas drive fish into cooler places north of their usual homes. "That's already driving conflict between countries,” says Professor Malin Pinsky Pinsky of Rutgers University in New Jersey. "It's spilling over far beyond just fish -- it's turned into trade wars." Another professor, glacier expert Luke Trusel of Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., notes that “we may be able to control” the impact if more countries reduce burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil and coal. "By limiting greenhouse gas emissions, we limit warming," he said. "That, it seems, is our call to make."
Climate analyst says: "The ocean is the memory of climate change . . . and 93% of the Earth's energy imbalance ends up in the ocean. . . . And 2018 will be the warmest year on record." -- Kevin Trenberth, study co-author who works at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research
Journalist says: "Climate science — and knowledge about the risks we face in the future — are getting better, more accurate and more sophisticated. . . . We can't say we weren’t warned." – Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone magazine environmental writer
Researcher says: "The ocean, in many ways, is the best thermometer we have for the planet." -- Zeke Hausfather, study co-author who's a climate scientist at the University of California-Berkeley.
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