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Climate Change’s Fight Harder Than Thought: Study

This new research suggests that accomplishing that goal requires countries to pull 25 percent more carbon out of the atmosphere than they've already committed to cleaning up.

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Oceans, Temperature
People walk on the beach of Biarritz, southwestern France, along the Atlantic Ocean, Dec. 18, 2015. New research shows the oceans are storing much more heat than previously thought. VOA

A new report recently published in the journal Nature suggests the Earth’s oceans are absorbing more of the planet’s excess heat than previously thought.

Scientists have known for some time that oceans store excess heat energy, and this helps keep the planet in its balmy, just-right temperature for supporting the explosion of life on Earth.

Knowing how hot the ocean is getting, and how fast that temperature is rising, helps scientists understand more about human-impacted climate change. It helps them know how much excess energy is being produced, and it helps them predict how much heat the ocean is capable of absorbing and how much warming will be felt on the Earth’s surface.

Oceans, boats
Lobster boats are moored in the harbor in Stonington, Maine. VOA

Up until the report was issued this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thought it had a pretty good handle on how much excess energy the oceans were absorbing. Using those numbers, the panel set targets for the amount of carbon reduction necessary to slow, and ultimately reverse, potentially devastating planetary warming.

But these new numbers suggest those targets may have to be revised upward by 25 percent. Research by the study’s lead author, Princeton professor Laure Resplandy, indicates our oceans are absorbing about 60 percent more heat energy than previously estimated.

According to Resplandy, the world’s oceans have taken up more than 13 zettajoules of energy every year between 1991 and 2016. A joule is the standard unit of energy; a zettajoule is one joule, followed by 21 zeroes.

Oceans, arctic
FILE – A young polar bear walks on ice over deep waters of the Arctic Ocean. VOA

“Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet deep,” Resplandy said. “Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5 degrees Celsius every decade since 1991. In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4 degrees Celsius every decade.”

How they got the new numbers

It’s not that the old numbers were wrong; it’s that the new numbers relied on new techniques and new ways to measure ocean warming. The old techniques used spot measurements of ocean temperature. But Resplandy and her team measured the amount of oxygen and carbon in the air, a number they call “Atmospheric Oxygen Potential (APO).” As oceans warm, they release oxygen and carbon into the atmosphere, which increases APO.

Another factor that raises APO is the burning of fossil fuels. Resplandy and her team compared the expected rise in APO due to the burning of fossil fuels, and compared it to the actual APO they were seeing. By looking at the difference, the team was able to predict how much carbon and oxygen were being released by the oceans and, therefore, how warm the world’s oceans were getting.

climate, global warming, celsisu, oceansac
A fisherman stands on his boat as he fishes at the Tisma lagoon wetland park, also designated as Ramsar Site 1141 in the Convention on Wetlands, in Tisma, Nicaragua. VOA

Why the new numbers matter

A host of countries, including the U.S. and China, signed the Paris Climate Accord in 2015, which aims to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Many climate scientists predict that if temperatures go above that mark, humans will be faced with devastating long-term global affects. Keeping those temperatures down requires cutting the amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere.

Also Read: New Carbon Capture Technology Now Able To Fight Climate Change: Experts

The U.S. has since pulled out of that climate agreement, but most of the rest of the world remains focused on limiting the rise of the world’s average temperatures.

This new research suggests that accomplishing that goal requires countries to pull 25 percent more carbon out of the atmosphere than they’ve already committed to cleaning up. (VOA)

Next Story

Students Worldwide Skip School to Protest Government’s Failure against Global Warming

They're angry at their elders, and they're not taking it sitting down

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global warming, climate change
Students from different institutions hold placards and banners as they participate in a climate protest in New Delhi, India, March 15, 2019. VOA

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated “school strikes,” being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

climate change, global warming
Students attend a protest ralley of the “Friday For Future Movement” in Berlin, Germany, March 15, 2019. VOA

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests were under way or planned in cities in more than 100 countries, including Hong Kong; New Delhi; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.

In Berlin some 10,000 protesters, most of them young students, gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F” before a march through the capital’s government quarter. The march was to end with a demonstration outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.

Organizer Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to coordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding some 30,000 messages a day.

“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.

Critics, supporters

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

climate change, global warming
Students hold signs during a rally for global climate strike for future in Seoul, South Korea, March 15, 2019. VOA

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Other action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.

climate change, global warming
Hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a climate protest in Hong Kong, March 15, 2019. VOA

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a society-wide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

ALSO READ: The Flamboyant Plastic Waste Boat Reminds The Global Policy-Makers The Urgency To Address Impact Of Plastics on The World’s Marine Environment

That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young.

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said. (VOA)