While much of western society enjoys living in willful ignorance about climate change, the fact is, what you don't know can hurt you. Tim Wallace of the New York Times reports that much of the heat of our rapidly warming world is being absorbed by oceans, and the long-term effects will be devastating.
Ocean temperatures have been consistently rising for at least three decades. Scientists believe that global sea surface temperatures will continue to increase over the next decade as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.
Last year, nearly all observed ocean surface temperatures registered above average because naturally occurring conditions caused by El Niño combined with human-induced warming. About a quarter of those observations broke record highs.
This excess energy has largely been sucked up by the oceans, which have a huge capacity to store heat. As the oceans store more heat, however, they expand. Scientists have shown that over the past decade, this thermal expansion has caused about one-third of the rise in sea levels.But what is happening below the surface?
The near-surface ocean takes only decades to warm in response to elevated greenhouse gas concentrations, but the deep ocean will take centuries to millenniums, raising sea level all the while. In the meantime, warmer ocean temperatures may also increase the destructive potential of extreme weather, like cyclones and hurricanes.Out of sight, out of mind is no longer a viable strategy, as we are now seeing, and far, far worse is yet to come.