Quantcast
Climate
Coral bleaching at Heron Island. Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

2017 Was the Hottest Year on Record for Oceans

Last year wasn't just one of the hottest years on Earth's surface, as it was the hottest year on record for the global ocean, according to a new study from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP)/Chinese Academy of Science.

Researchers Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu found that the top 2,000 meters of ocean waters are hotter than ever recorded, at 19.19 × 10^22 J. Heat energy is measured in Joules (J).


That's quite the jump from 2015, the previous record-breaking year for ocean heat, which was recorded at 17.68 × 10^22 J.

"For comparison," the study states, "total electricity generation in China in 2016 was 0.00216 × 10^22 J, which is 699 times smaller than the increase in ocean heat in 2017."

Ocean heat in 2016 was cooler than both 2015 and 2017 due to a large El Ninõ event that year, which takes heat out of the ocean. As thermal sciences professor Dr. John Abraham explained in the Guardian, "During an El Niño, the Pacific Ocean tends to have very warm waters at the surface, which causes heat loss to the atmosphere (so the ocean cools and the atmosphere warms). Conversely, during a La Niña, the reverse process occurs."

Despite the 2016 drop, the last five years were still the five warmest years in the ocean on record.

  1. 2017: 19.19 × 10^22 J
  2. 2015: 17.68 × 10^22 J
  3. 2016: 17.18 × 10^22 J
  4. 2014: 16.74 × 10^22 J
  5. 2013: 16.08 × 10^22 J

This chart makes the rise in ocean heat since the 1950s much more clear.

Change in global upper-level (0–2000 m) ocean heat content since 1958. Each bar shows the annual mean relative to a 1981–2010 baseline. The final bar on the right shows the 2017 value. Reliable ocean temperature records date back to 1958. IAP ocean analysis.

The study, published Friday in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, determined that the increase in ocean heat content for 2017 occurred in most regions of the world, with the Atlantic and Southern oceans showing more warming than Pacific and Indian oceans.

The research highlights how measuring ocean heat is key to tracking the impacts of climate change:

"Owing to its large heat capacity, the ocean accumulates the warming derived from human activities; indeed, more than 90 percent of Earth's residual heat related to global warming is absorbed by the ocean. As such, the global ocean heat content record robustly represents the signature of global warming and is impacted less by weather-related noise and climate variability such as El Niño and La Niña events. The year 2016 was cooler than both 2015 and 2017 owing to the huge El Niño, which took some of the heat out of the ocean. According to the IAP ocean analysis, the last five years have been the five warmest years in the ocean. Measurements of ocean heating are a more reliable indicator than atmospheric measurements for tracking the vital signs of the health of the planet."

Abraham, who was not involved in the study, described the findings as "truly astonishing" and noted that the consequences of ocean heating could include declining oxygen levels in the oceans, coral bleaching, and the melting of sea ice and ice shelves that cause sea level rise.

"The consequences of this year-after-year-after-year warming have real impacts on humans," Abraham said. "Fortunately, we know why the oceans are warming (because of human greenhouse gases), and we can do something about it. We can take action to reduce the heating of our planet by using energy more wisely and increasing the use of clean and renewable energy (like wind and solar power)."

The Chinese study underscores that how the oceans' health—and the health of its creatures—are greatly impacted by human activities.

A separate paper published in Science this week showed that the millions of tons of plastic that we leach into our seas each year are literally poisoning and killing coral reefs.

"The likelihood of disease increases from 4 percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic," the researchers reported.

The researchers estimated that more than 11 billion plastic items are currently littered in coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region alone. If plastic consumption does not change, the total number could rise to 15.7 billion items by 2025.

"Plastic is one of the biggest threats in the ocean at the moment, I would say, apart from climate change," Dr. Joleah Lamb of Cornell University said.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Food
Pixabay

What All Parents Need to Know About Pesticides in Produce

By Robert Coleman

Every spring the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases our Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. The guide can be used by anyone trying to avoid pesticides, but it's especially important for parents to limit their children's exposures to these toxic chemicals.

Keep reading... Show less
Pexels

Vegan Coffee Creamers for the Perfect Morning Cup

When it comes to coffee and tea creamers, you may have to try a few before you find the perfect one for you. Some are creamier, some are sweeter, but there's something that all the best ones have in common: They don't harm cows by using their milk. Even if creamers tout a "dairy-free" label, you may find milk derivatives such as casein in the ingredients. Thankfully, there are so many delicious vegan creamers to choose from, and they're widely available in most grocery stores.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Alessio Viora / Marine Photobank

A Single Discarded Fishing Net Can Keep Killing for Centuries

By Jason Bittel

Divers off the coast of the Cayman Islands last month came face to face with a ghoulish sight: a gigantic mass of abandoned fishing gear and its catch. The monstrous net, as wide and deep as the Hollywood sign is tall, drifted just below the water's surface with tendrils that teemed with hundreds of dead and dying fish and sharks.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Pxhere

17 Organizations Feeding and Healing the World Through Regenerative Agriculture

By Eva Perroni

Transitioning to more sustainable forms of agriculture remains critical, as many current agriculture practices have serious consequences including deforestation and soil degradation. But despite agriculture's enormous potential to hurt the environment, it also has enormous potential to heal it. Realizing this, many organizations are promoting regenerative agriculture as a way to not just grow food but to progressively improve ecosystems.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
A pair of Genusee glasses and a Flint-sewn polish bag. Genusee

Michigan Native Develops Visionary Solution for Flint’s Plastic Bottle Problem

When Detroit-area native Ali Rose VanOverBeke came back home in 2016 to volunteer with the Red Cross at the height of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, she probably didn't expect to get a business idea with the potential to change both her and Flint's future.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
TAFE SA TONSLEY/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Scientists Hit Back: Another Paper Claims 100% Renewables is Possible and Affordable

Is it possible for the world to run on 100 percent renewable energy? It's a noble goal, as the best science tells us we must significantly slash fossil fuel consumption or else the planet faces dangerous climate change.

A number of academics believe it's not only feasible to wean off coal, natural gas and other polluting fuels by transitioning to renewable sources such as solar and wind power, it's even cost-effective.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
White-banded swallows in Yasuni National Park, which has largely escaped human pressures. Geoff Gallice from Gainesville / CC BY 2.0

One-Third of Protected Areas 'Highly Degraded' By Humans, Study Finds

A study published in Science Friday presents what authors call a sobering "reality check" on global efforts to protect biodiversity—one third of all conservation areas set aside as wildlife sanctuaries or national parks are "highly degraded" by human activities.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!