The world’s oceans reached their hottest levels on record in 2021. It’s the third year in a row it’s happened, and it’s driven almost entirely by human-caused climate change, scientists announced yesterday.
The findings are presented in a paper published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. As excess heat accumulates in the atmosphere, caused by continued greenhouse gas emissions, the oceans soak some of it in.
The study analyzes data from scientific sensors attached to floats scattered throughout the oceans, from the balmy Mediterranean to the icy waters surrounding Antarctica. It relies primarily on two international datasets—one maintained by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the other operated by NOAA.
The study finds that the amount of heat in the oceans last year broke the previous 2020 record by around 14 zettajoules. That’s equivalent to at least 20 times the entire world’s annual energy consumption.
It’s an ongoing pattern. All five of the world’s hottest ocean levels have occurred in the last five years. The record-breaker in 2017 is still a bit higher than 2018. But each of the last three years, from 2019 to 2021, have all broken the previous record.
That’s on top of a decades-long pattern of warming. Every decade since 1958 has been warmer than the previous decade. And the rate of warming has sped up significantly since the 1980s.
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