LOS ANGELES – Scientists have struggled to explain a recent slowdown in the rise of global surface temperatures while skeptics have seized on the 15-year lull to cast doubt on the science of climate change.
A new study offers one explanation of where much of the heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions is going: the ocean.
Scientists found that parts of the Pacific Ocean are absorbing heat faster than they have over the past 10,000 years. The results, published this past week in the journal Science, suggest seawater is capturing far more energy than previously thought, for now sparing land-dwellers some of the worst effects of climate change.
Researchers collected marine sediment off Indonesia to measure the mineral content in the shells of a species of single-celled plankton that change their composition as waters warm. Scientists reconstructed the temperature of the plankton’s habitat in the middle depths of the western Pacific going back 10,000 years.
Those waters were cooling gradually until about 1600, when temperatures started inching back up, the study found. In recent decades, the rate of ocean warming has accelerated comparatively quickly, rising about one-third of a degree Fahrenheit in the last 60 years.
“This is much faster than anything we’ve seen in the long term,” said Yair Rosenthal, a professor of earth sciences at Rutgers University and lead author of the study.
The ocean’s heat content accounts for about 90 percent of the earth’s warming, the study says, making it a more reliable indicator of climate change than surface temperatures.