Almost a year ago to the day, Oxford researchers released climate change data and attached what’s still a pretty silly equivalency for context. The ocean, they said, was warming at a rate equal to 1.5 atomic bomb blasts per second. Technically, it was The Guardian who came up with the catchy hook and mental imagery of mushroom clouds hovering over those precious sea turtles already suffocating on plastic straws, but the point of it all was never too difficult to grasp: illustrate to the world that climate change is a real thing and something should be done about it.
Well, January 2019 was a full year ago now. And what’s the point of catchy headlines that make people argue more and more about saving the planet without a little bit of one-upmanship? So thank you, Oxford researchers and The Guardian. We see your feeble 1.5 atomic blasts per second and 2020 has upped the ante to 5 whole atomic blasts per second.
A shiny new doomsday study courtesy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Atmospheric Physics published new data this week that told us more of what we already know. The main difference between the two studies was simply in their sample data, with the Oxford study going as far back as 1871 and stretching out to the 21st century. CAS’ study focused on greenhouse gas emissions and ocean temperature changes between 1950 and 2019, finding that the average temperature of the world’s oceans in 2019 was 0.075 degrees Celsius (0.135 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 1981–2010 average. To make this possible, they say, the ocean would have taken in 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (228 Sextillion) Joules of heat in that timeframe.
“That’s a lot of zeros indeed,” said CHENG Lijing, lead paper author and associate professor with the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). “To make it easier to understand, I did a calculation. The Hiroshima atom-bomb exploded with an energy of about 63,000,000,000,000 Joules. The amount of heat we have put in the world’s oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions. This measured ocean warming is irrefutable and is further proof of global warming. There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat-trapping gases to explain this heating.”
The importance of this research, they say, is to stress just how quickly things are changing. And the ocean is our best measuring stick for those changes because that’s where the vast majority of the planet’s heat ends up. We see those changes in extended fire seasons and the growing intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes and so on, but it always starts with the warming of our oceans, the study explained.
“The price we pay is the reduction of ocean-dissolved oxygen, the harmed marine lives, strengthening storms and reduced fisheries and ocean-related economies,” Cheng said. “However, the more we reduce greenhouse gasses, the less the ocean will warm. Reduce, reuse and recycle, and transferring to a clean energy society are still the major way forward.”
Next up, the same researchers plan to study how those changes in ocean temperatures affect buoyancy, which in turn shifts how nutrients and heat are distributed.