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Expand chart
Data: Cheng, L. J, and Coauthors, 2022; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

World ocean temperatures in 2021 were the hottest ever recorded by humans, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

Driving the news: The research ties the warming trend conclusively to human emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas.

Why it matters: The oceans store at least 90% of the extra heat retained in the atmosphere from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and ocean warming is increasingly tied to extreme weather and climate events.

The new study — published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences — presents the first analysis of ocean heat content through 2021 from two different data sets.

  • Each clearly shows ocean temperatures reached new heights in 2021, continuing their sharp increase during the past several decades.

Details: The study found that the period since 1985 has seen an eightfold increase in ocean heat content when compared to the 1958 to 1985 period, and each decade since 1958 has been warmer than those that preceded it.

  • Seawater expands as it warms, yielding higher sea levels, more marine heat waves that can kill sensitive coral reefs, and other ecosystem changes.
  • Warmer waters can also yield faster intensification of tropical storms and hurricanes, as was seen with Hurricane Ida last year, and help boost heavy precipitation and fuel severe weather well inland, as occurred in the Midwest during December of last year.

What they're saying: "The oceans will continue to warm until net carbon emissions go to zero. Ocean warming is destabilizing Antarctic ice shelves and threatens massive (meters) of sea level rise if we don’t act," said study co-author Michael Mann of Penn State University, in an email.

Go deeper

The most startling facts in 2021 climate report

An unsettling part of the human condition today is that the year you were born will most likely be the coolest year of your life, globally speaking.

By the numbers: Newly released climate data from NOAA, NASA and Berkeley Earth show that the planet has had an unbroken streak of 45 years of warmer than average temperatures.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 14, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Power demand surge thwarts climate goals

Expand chart
Reproduced from International Energy Agency; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global electricity demand surged by record levels in 2021, causing price spikes and emissions growth, the International Energy Agency said.

Driving the news: New IEA data out Friday shows that power demand grew by over 1,500 terawatt-hours, the highest absolute amount ever.

FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly COVID antibody treatments

A coldbox containing monoclonal antibody treatments at a Regeneron clinic in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in August. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FDA said Monday it's limiting the use of two monoclonal antibody therapies as COVID-19 treatments because data indicates they're "highly unlikely" to be effective against the dominant Omicron variant.

Driving the news: The FDA revised the authorizations for Regeneron and Eli Lilly "to limit their use to only when the patient is likely to have been infected with or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments," per a statement from the agency.