There has been good evidence that the oceans warmed up faster than thought. Now, researchers have assembled the puzzle pieces together.
So this morning, when I drink my coffee and reading news headlines, I see this in the New York Times: "Ocean Warming Accelerates Faster Than Thought, New Research Available."
The story was about a new newspaper published Thursday In the journal Science called "How Fast is the Ocean Warming?"  This is a big deal, since human-induced global warming does not only affect the ground surface, in fact, more than 90 percent of global warming is absorbed in the oceans, helping to prevent much steeper temperature rises on land.  But all the n the heat entering the ocean is not really a benign phenomenon. By causing seawater to expand, it contributes to rising sea levels. The heat can also make storms more destructive and it puts tremendous stress on the ocean ecosystems – which we rely heavily on food.
And in the long run it no longer goes into the oceans that lie in the sea. Heat eventually comes out of the water to contribute to the heating of atmospheric temperatures around the world.
So you know exactly how much heat is entering is very important. With that in mind, I checked out other stories about the new paper in Science, and I saw that many contained similar headings like N.Y. Times.
More on the scientific paper in one minute. But first I have to say that I realized that I had seen very similar headlines before. Just in October this year, I saw this in Scientific American: "The garden warms up faster than expected." According to the story, a new study published yesterday in the journal Nature concluded that the global oceans can be absorbed to 60 percent more heat since the 1990s than older estimates had found. "
And nearly two years ago, the Washington Post ran this headline:" The world's oceans store dizzying amounts of heat – and that's even more than we thought. "It was based on a study published in the journal Science Advances. In a press release about this, the study co-authored Keven Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who said" the planet heats pretty much more than we thought. "
Hmmm. Two years ago, we already knew that the planet was warming a lot more than we thought. So what happens to today's headlines, which seems to suggest we didn't know this?
For quite some time now, scientists have actually had good reason to believe that The oceans have raised more warming heat than was calculated in a major report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014. And later, research has confirmed these suspicions.
If you read beyond the headline and into the New York Times story – which is actually pretty good – do you see that the new paper is not at all a research article presents a great new advance, which is actually an assessment based on on previous original research by the state of knowledge about increasing sea heat content, or "OHC", which researchers notice it. And, as the assessment concluded, "Multiple evidence lines from four independent groups thus propose a more strongly observed OHC warming."
Based on much of the coverage I met today, you can easily conclude that the new assessment made a dramatic new find. But the findings have actually risen in a few years – like these headlines, some of them quite dramatic. Now the authors of the new assessment together have drawn several strings of previous research together to give a clearer picture of what is currently known.
That picture shows that the oceans heat up 40 percent faster than the U.N. report calculated. And everything gets worse. As Trenberth, one of the authors, puts it in an email to me today, "There are clear signs of acceleration."
The better estimates of how much heating heat comes to sea is partly based on new ways of collecting data from different sources. Since the early 2000s, precise data has been provided by a modern network of floating sea sensor sensors, known as the Argo network. But before that, information was collected by less accurate sensors called interchangeable bath thermographs.
Due to inaccuracies, data from the older sensors contained biases. Thanks to the latest research, scientists have found ways to handle this issue, which gives a better picture of how much more heat the oceans have become awakening compared to the past.
The picture has also been improved by new ways of dealing with another problematic problem: Previously, larger parts of the oceans went unanswered yet today. "The oceans are not well-observed when we return in time," notes Trenberth.
Previously, the researchers tried to deal with this by using different strategies to fill the gaps. But these tended to produce overly conservative estimates. More recently, satellite observations and computer modeling have helped improve estimates of what has been going on in virtually unattended areas of the oceans.
And other researchers have still analyzed marine factors that are affected by the sea temperature in order to get independent estimates of how the ocean's thermal store has changed over time.
Overall, the estimates derived from these studies are in line with what climate models have said. The models have tended to indicate more ocean warming than observed, and this contradiction had given rise to critics of climate change science. But now Trenberth and his co-authors say that the deviation is largely gone.
One of the innovative conclusions in the new assessment is the likely consequences of not being able to remove the commercial scenario of high emissions of heat capture greenhouse gases. Model forecasts – which we now know have been in line with observations – show that the likely amount of sea heating "would have a great impact on the marine ecosystems and the sea level rises through thermal expansion," the researchers write.
When you combine thermal expansion estimates with estimated sea level elevation from melting glaciers and ice boxes, you come up with numbers that "have very bad consequences for many coastal regions," Trenberth told an email.
My point writes all this today is to point out that if you pay too close attention to headlines, you can get the impression that science takes place in discrete outbreaks of dramatic new research results. In fact, the research is progressing progressively to a large extent, with different groups of researchers examining a particular issue independently and often in different ways. A study usually does not provide a definite insight into a phenomenon. It takes several finds – and sometimes a group of researchers who fit these puzzle pieces together – to create a clearer and more convincing image.