A study published on Jan 11 by twenty three researchers and fourteen institutes reported yet another record-breaking ocean temperature increase in 2021. While this may not sound surprising, the amount of warming and its implications might shock you. Co-author of the study, John Abraham, put just one year’s warming into layman’s terms for us: “last year the oceans absorbed heat equivalent to seven Hiroshima atomic bombs detonating each second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
The authors report that this trend in increasing temperatures has continued persistently for the past four decades. Additionally, ocean temperatures are an accurate gauge for global warming, because oceans absorb over 90% of the extra energy that comes from greenhouse gases due to human activities like burning fossil fuels.
What does this mean for us? Warming oceans firstly contribute to water expansion and the melting ice caps, which mean rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Additionally, global heating changes atmospheric moisture levels, increasing the risk of heat waves, wildfires, and the severity of storms like hurricanes and tornadoes, all of which have broken longstanding records in the past year or two. Finally, these temperature changes affect the ecosystems in the oceans (and on land!). Studies have tied ocean warming to shrinking fish, changing migration patterns of sharks, imbalances of ecosystems that cause food shortages for many, and new species of bacteria that could lead to serious health risks for all of us.
With each year’s increase in temperatures, the warming reaches deeper levels of the ocean, meaning that even if fossil fuel emissions are stopped, warming will continue. This doesn’t mean we have no hope! The sooner we can stop producing emissions and instead create sustainable systems, the healthier our world will be.
But as evidenced by 40 years of warming, those profiting from the extracting and burning of fossil fuels will not stop. Only our collective efforts to end capitalism have a chance of saving our oceans and our world.