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.
- 2017: 19.19 × 10^22 J
- 2015: 17.68 × 10^22 J
- 2016: 17.18 × 10^22 J
- 2014: 16.74 × 10^22 J
- 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.
"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.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.