Ocean warming has accelerated dramatically since the 1990s, nearly doubling during 2010–2020 relative to 1990–2000, according to new UNSW Sydney-led research.

The study, published this week in Nature Communications, also shows some areas of the ocean are doing more of the work in heat uptake or absorption, which has implications for our understanding of sea-level rise and climate impacts.

Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activity traps heat within the climate system, warming air, the land surface, the oceans, and melting polar ice. Oceans do by far the most work, absorbing more than 90 per cent of the excess human-generated heat accumulated in the Earth’s climate system, moderating atmospheric temperature rises.

While ocean warming helps slow the pace of climate change, it is not without cost, says Scientia Professor Matthew England, co-author of the study from the UNSW Centre for Marine Science and Innovation.

“The world ocean, in 2023, is now the hottest ever recorded, and sea levels are rising because heat causes water to expand and ice to melt,” says Prof. England. “Ecosystems are also experiencing unprecedented heat stress, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are changing rapidly, and the costs are enormous.”

“Right now, the ocean is warming at a dramatically accelerating rate, nearly doubling during the 2010s relative to the 1990s,” says Dr Zhi Li, lead author of the study from the UNSW Centre for Marine Science and Innovation. “What we wanted to do in this study was to figure out exactly where this ocean heat uptake has been occurring.”

Read the full article about ocean warming at UNSW Sydney.