The Earth's oceans have soaked in 60 per cent more heat than previously thought, according to a new study carried out by the researchers from Princeton University and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego.
This higher-than-anticipated amount of heat energy in the oceans suggests that the issue of global warming is at a more advanced stage than believed, and that the Earth is warming at a faster rate than predicted.
The new research, funded by the Princeton Environmental Institute and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estimates that the world's oceans absorbed nearly 13 zettajoules of heat each year between 1991 and 2016.
This figure is about 60 per cent higher than the estimates mentioned in the Fifth Assessment Report prepared by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014.
If ocean temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than previously estimated, there is less time available for countries to cut their carbon emissions
Since 2007, scientists have been using a system of nearly 4,000 Argo floats to record temperature and the amount of salinity in Earth's oceans. Prior to that, the methods used to measure and calculate ocean heat had multiple flaws.
In the current study, the team - rather than measuring the temperature of oceans directly - measured the volume of carbon dioxide, oxygen and other gases that escaped the oceans (as they heated) in recent decades and moved into the atmosphere. Using this approach, the researchers claim that they were able to calculate changes in ocean temperature more accurately.
The scientists believe the new findings could have significant policy implications in near future. If ocean temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than previously estimated, there is less time available for countries to cut their carbon emissions and to achieve the goal of limiting the global warming, as set in the Paris agreement.
However, researchers calculate that humanity could still avoid a warming of two degrees Celsius if the maximum carbon emission limit was further reduced by 25 per cent.
The detailed findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.
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