A new study suggests that surface ocean waters are storing a lot more of our planet’s heat than previously thought. How much, you ask? Well, according to this report, we may have been underestimating the amount of heat “stored” in the upper regions of our planet’s oceans by as much as 24 to 55 percent. Oceans are thought to store some 90 percent of human-caused warming, which makes this a very big deal indeed. The BBC reports:
Specifically in the Southern Hemisphere where fewer measurements have been made, a team of researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California investigated long-term warming in the top 700m of the ocean. […][T]he scientists found that the rate of upper-ocean warming between 1970 and 2004 had been seriously underestimated. That inaccuracy is specific to the Southern Hemisphere, but is big enough, the scientists suggest, that global upper-ocean warming rates are also “biased low” – to the tune of 24% to 55%.
The reason scientists have been so far off on this is, according to this new study, due to a dearth of measurements of surface warming in southern oceans. If this report is correct, our understanding of a key component of our planet’s complex climate has been way, way off.This could help explain why our best climate models have failed to predict a plateau in warming rates over the past decade, but it also raises a number of questions and concerns about the state of climate science. For one thing, an estimation that misses the mark by 24 to 55 percent is enormously inaccurate. This is clearly a subject that bears further scrutiny, but at this point the known unknowns dwarf the known knowns, to borrow from Donald Rumsfeld.We are grappling with a problem of enormous complexity, and while we can see that humanity plays a role, the vagaries of global warming boggle the mind. The more we study it, the more we realize how difficult it is to predict what comes next for our climate, and the more foolish it looks to peg policies to specific degrees of warming. So much for settled science.