Though a warmer ocean might make for a more pleasant swim, it carries deadly consequences.
A warmer ocean causes sea level to rise, bringing problems like dangerous coastal
flooding. It leads to the loss of sea ice, heating the waters even further. It can affect the jet stream, allowing cold Arctic air to reach farther south, making winters more intense, and endanger the lives of animals that depend on sea ice like penguins and polar bears.
A warmer ocean also contributes to increases in rainfall and leads to stronger and longer-lasting storms like Hurricanes Florence and Harvey.
“The warming is convoluted with natural variability, and one of the warmest spots was where [Florence] developed this past year and where Harvey developed this previous year,” Trenberth said. “The warm water fuels the evaporation and moisture for storms.”
For every 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) increase in temperature, there is 7% more moisture in the air. Ocean temperatures around Florence trended 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) warmer than normal, contributing to about 10% more moisture available in the atmosphere.
We could see many more weather-related problems if the ocean continues to warm at this accelerated pace, especially if there is no human intervention to manage climate change, experts say.
“Global warming is rearing its head,” Trenberth said.
If humans don’t do anything to mitigate climate change, warming in the upper part of the ocean will be six times higher by 2081-2100 than total ocean warming in the past 60 years, researchers estimate. If, however, humans act and can reach the goals set by the Paris agreement
, ocean warming could be cut in half
by 2081-2100, the authors said.
The study fits within other reports like the United Nations warning in October that humanity has just over 10 years
to act to avoid disastrous levels of global warming. That report urged governments to make “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
The UN report found that the planet would reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.
A US government report
in November delivered a similar dire warning that the country could lose hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives by the end of the century due to climate change.