Expand chart
Trends in ocean heat from 4 different observational datasets, compared to the CMIP5 computer model mean, from 1955 through 2017. Data: Cheng et al. Science, 2019; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios.

New, independent observations from ocean buoys and other data sources show Earth's oceans are warming at a rate that's about 40% faster than indicated in the 2013 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Why it matters: The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, resolves a key uncertainty in climate science by reconciling analyses from a variety of different scientific teams.

The oceans are absorbing about 93% of the extra heat going into the climate system. So far, most of that heat resides in the upper ocean, and is only slowly diffusing down into deeper waters. Faster warming is already resulting in tangible, harmful impacts, from coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef to rapidly intensifying hurricanes.

  • Scientists describe the ocean as having a "long memory," meaning that the heat going into the waters now will continue to be released long after humans cut greenhouse gas emissions (assuming we do take that course).

Be smart: The data from four different research groups now generally match the ocean heat content projections from the newest climate models, the study finds, which indicates that these models are accurately simulating the Earth's radiation budget.

  • “We can see the emergence of the signal of global warming much more clearly in ocean heat content,” says study co-author Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the climate research group Berkeley Earth.
  • Hausfather says 2018 will be the warmest year on record for the Earth's oceans, beating the record set just last year.

How it works: Because the ocean's heat content doesn't vary as sharply as surface temperatures, it is considered a more reliable indicator of global warming.

The impact: Warmer oceans are already causing unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching events, and are contributing to sea-level rise. They're also causing glaciers to melt from below in Greenland and Antarctica.

  • Warmer waters provide critical fuel for extreme storms, with studies showing ties between Hurricane Harvey's devastating deluge and warmer than average waters in the Gulf of Mexico, for example.

Why you'll hear about this again: The oceans are a main reason why climate change will not relent even if emissions were to cease today, since they will continue to release heat, and also greenhouse gases, over time. There are also implications for carbon removal technologies, which are getting more attention from scientists and investments from major oil companies.

Lost in much of the discussion on carbon removal, however, is the potential for the oceans to spoil the party.

“The climate system has a long memory," Hausfather says, “It doesn’t warm as quickly as it otherwise would and it’s a lot harder to cool it back down once it starts warming.”

  • The bottom line: "Just like the oceans buffer the rate of warming, they would also similarly buffer the rate of cooling in a world where we had net-negative emissions," Hausfather says.

He cited a 2016 study that showed it would take slightly more negative emissions to reduce warming than it takes positive emissions to increase temperatures.

Go deeper

Trump says G7 summit will be delayed until after the election

President Trump told reporters on Monday that he wants to delay the G7 summit until after November's election and implied that the decision had already been made.

The big picture: Plans for the summit have already been scrapped multiple times, with proposed venues moving from the Trump National Doral resort in Miami to Camp David. In May, Trump postponed the in-person event in Washington, D.C. to September.

Trump whisked out of press briefing after shooting outside White House

President Trump was escorted out of a coronavirus press briefing by a Secret Service agent on Monday after law enforcement reportedly shot an armed suspect outside of the White House.

The state of play: Trump returned to the podium approximately ten minutes later and informed reporters of the news. He said the suspect has been taken to the hospital, but was unable to provide more details and said Secret Service may give a briefing later.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 19,952,057 — Total deaths: 732,689 — Total recoveries — 12,150,698Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 5,074,059 — Total deaths: 163,275 — Total recoveries: 1,656,864 — Total tests: 61,792,571Map.
  3. Politics: House will not hold votes until Sept. 14 unless stimulus deal is reached.
  4. Business: Richer Americans are more comfortable eating out.
  5. Public health: A dual coronavirus and flu threat is set to deliver a winter from hellAt least 48 local public health leaders have quit or been fired during pandemic.
  6. Sports: The cost of kids losing gym class — College football is on the brink.
  7. World: Europe's CDC recommends new restrictions amid "true resurgence in cases."