The oceans continue to accumulate the heat, while the myth that global warming stopped in 1998 carries on gaining popularity among the public. This claim, which was recently supported by Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry, fails to take into consideration that the land surface and the atmosphere are only a small fraction of the Earth’s climate. The entire planet is accumulating heat, including the oceans.

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Photo: National Geographic

According to data gathered by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the oceans are one of the most important indicators of global warming as they store about 90% of the additional heat trapped by greenhouse gases. The atmosphere can only store about 2%, because it doesn’t have enough heat capacity.

The UN report on climate change published on 31 January, reported that “concentrations of CO2, CH4, and N2O now substantially exceed the highest concentrations recorded in ice cores during the past 800,000 years”. This results in continuous heat accumulation in the oceans.

A 2014 study by Kevin Trenberth, a renowned scientist who was a lead author of two IPCC assessments, shows that, unlike the atmosphere, the oceans continue to warm at a fast rate, and that this is consistent with the global energy imbalance observed by satellites. Further analysis of NOAA’s data reveals that over the last 30 years this continuous accumulation of heat energy has been equivalent to that released by detonating 4.5 Hiroshima atomic bombs every second.

Previous climatic transitions have been natural, but the evidence clearly shows that the current changes are not. Nor are they likely to abate. While some scientists try to find supporting evidence for global warming having paused, the so-called “slowdown” applies only to the surface of our planet. The oceans, meanwhile, continue to warm apace, with potentially devastating effects for rising sea level, marine ecosystems, and the global climate.