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Ocean Absorbing Heat 15 Times Faster Than Any Point in Last 10,000 Years

Nov 01, 2013 10:42 AM EDT
The discovery of dramatic yet natural short-term increases in a North Carolina estuary's acidity is bad news for the fragile ecosystem and others like it, all of which are already facing long-term ocean acidification due to climate change.
(Photo : Reuters)

The ocean is currently absorbing heat 15 times faster than at any point in the last 10,000 years, researchers have uncovered.

The discovery offers a compelling argument as to why atmospheric temperatures have stabilized during the last decade -- an oft-quoted point by climate change skeptics.

In the new study published in the journal Science, marine and coastal sciences Professor Yair Rosenthal from Rutgers University teamed up with Braddock Linsley of Columbia University and Delia W. Oppo of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Together, they examined the shells of tiny single-celled organisms known as foraminifera found in sediment cores taken from the seas surrounding Indonesia where the Pacific and Indian oceans overlap.

Specifically, they measured the ratio of magnesium to calcium in the shells of the species of foraminifera called Hyalinea balthica based on the fact that the warmer the waters when the organism calcified, the greater the magnesium to calcium ratio.

Doing so allowed the researchers to look back in time at not only the part of the Pacific of the ocean where the specimens were collected, but the higher latitudes, too. This is due to the fact that the intermediate water (depths between 450-1,000 meters) contains water that was once near the surface in the northern and southern Pacific. Over time, as the water became saltier and colder it sank and moved slowly toward the equator.

"Our work showed that intermediate waters in the Pacific had been cooling steadily from about 10,000 years ago," Linsley said.

According to Rosenthal, while the ocean may be helping for now, even it has its limits.

"We may have underestimated the efficiency of the oceans as a storehouse for heat and energy," Rosenthal said. "It may buy us some time -- how much time, I don't really know -- to come to terms with climate change. But it's not going to stop climate change."

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