Update: The scientists behind this study have updated their report in the journal Nature acknowledging key errors in the study. The note that the data regarding scientific uncertainty was mishandled, which inflated the amount of heat the oceans have absorbed. The central finding that the oceans have absorbed more heat than previously reported remains in line with other studies. In a statement to the Washington Post, a Nature spokesman said: “Maintaining the accuracy of the scientific record is of primary importance to us as publishers and we recognize our responsibility to correct errors in papers that we have published."
A new study published Wednesday in the journal "Nature" shows global warming has already accelerated far beyond what scientists anticipated.
The study uses new methods to measure global ocean temperatures, which showed the oceans have retained 60 percent more heat than earlier estimates showed. Scientists measured the volume of oxygen and carbon dioxide gases evaporating from the oceans' surface, rather than inexact direct measurements that led to uncertainty before the new equipment was deployed in 2007.
The oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the excess energy in the Earth's atmosphere. Warmer oceans have been blamed for dramatic shifts in weather patterns, such as additional hurricanes and tornadoes in the Northeast.
The new findings have dramatic impacts for policymakers aiming to reduce the impact of climate change. Under the Paris Climate Accord, global leaders set a target to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), a target that will require carbon emissions to be cut in half by 2030. That effort has involved dramatic economic changes that have been difficult to implement, such as efforts to spur the widespread adoption of electric cars.
If the new study is correct, those cuts would have to be increased by 25 percent, and policymakers will have to launch new efforts to adapt to the effects of global warming along with mitigation measures.
In the U.S., the Trump administration has been working to reverse climate-change mitigation policies put in place during the Obama administration, such as limits on emissions from powerplants and tighter fuel economy standards. In its proposal to dismantle increases in fuel economy standards, the administration conceded that man-made climate-change is real and estimated that global temperatures will rise as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, but deemed the change essentially inevitable and argued that reducing U.S. fuel economy standards would have minimal effect.
Scientists have been clamoring for measures to mitigate human contributions to climate change, but uncertainty about the degree of ocean warming contributed to stalling debate and limiting action.
"We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted" under old measurements, Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the new study told the Washington Post.
Paul Durack, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, calls the new report "alarming," and says that if verified, it will mean that planner have to "go back to the drawing board" on how to mitigate the effects of climate change.
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