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 ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Right: magpiessoftserve / Instagram Left: veganrobs / Instagram

11 Vegan Food Trends to Watch in 2018

By Danny Prater

New dairy-free favorites, surprising protein sources and automated everything: We've prepped a list of 2019's biggest food trends—all vegan, of course. Like you, millions of people are more curious than ever before about the latest developments in the vegan culinary world. Below, you can check out the newest, fanciest vegan foods and the hottest trends that will help you reduce your environmental footprint, improve your personal health and spare hundreds of animals a violent death in the coming year.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

New York Gov. Proposes State Legalize Recreational Marijuana

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he will push to fully legalize recreational marijuana in the state as part of his agenda for the next year.

"The fact is we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well off, and one for everyone else," Cuomo said in a speech about his agenda for the first 100 days of his third term, as quoted by The New York Times.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Circus elephants. Laura LaRose / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

New Jersey Is First State to Ban Wild Animal Circus Acts

It is now illegal to use elephants, tigers and other wild and exotic animals in traveling animal acts in New Jersey, the first state to mandate such a move.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed "Nosey's Law," the namesake of a 36-year-old African elephant with crippling arthritis that was forced to travel around the country, including to the Garden State, for traveling circus acts and suffered abuse, according to a press release from the governor's office.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. WClarke / CC BY-SA 4.0

Major Investors Pressure Exxon to Set CO2 Reduction Targets

The world's largest oil company is being pressured by major shareholders to take action on climate change.

Institutional investors with an estimated $1.9 trillion under management, led by the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) and the Church Commissioners of England (CCE), filed a shareholder resolution calling on ExxonMobil to set targets for lowering its greenhouse gas emissions, covering emissions from both its operations and the use of its products.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Minimize plastic waste by wrapping gifts with reusable, recyclable and biodegradable materials. Westend61 / Getty Images

How to Have Yourself a Plastic-Free Christmas

By Manuela Taboada, Glenda Amayo Caldwell, Hope Johnson, Leonie Barner and Rowena Maguire

Research shows that waste can double during the Christmas period, and most of it is plastic from gift wrapping and packaging. The British, for example, go through more than 40 million rolls of (mostly plastic) sticky tape every year, and use enough wrapping paper to go around the Equator nine times.

We love plastic. It is an amazing material, so ubiquitous in our lives we barely notice it. Unfortunately, plastic waste has become a serious worldwide environmental and health issue. If we don't love the idea of a planet covered in plastic waste, we urgently need to reduce our plastic consumption.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Patrick Neufelder / Pixabay

2018: The Year Things Fell Apart — or the Year the Tide Turned?

By John R. Platt

This has been one hell of a tough year for the planet.

Just look at the past few weeks: The Trump administration tried to bury its own climate report, planned to eliminate sage-grouse protection on millions of acres of oil-rich land, allowed more pollution from coal plants, and then withdrew the Waters of the United States rule, threatening the entire Clean Water Act in the process.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Business
Swen Pförtner / Getty Images

Amazon Employees Praised for Using Shareholder Status to Demand Comprehensive Climate Plan

By Jessica Corbett

A small group of Amazon workers is receiving big praise for their efforts to force their employer to be a better steward of the planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
A container of Johnson's baby powder sits on a table. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson Knew About Asbestos in Baby Powder for Decades, Reuters Investigation Finds

By Jessica Corbett

A Reuters investigation published Friday charges that Johnson & Johnson, a multi-billion dollar company known for its healthcare products, knew for decades that its iconic talcum baby powder "was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos," but concealed the information from regulators and the public.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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