Rick Perry is half right — oceans absorb heat and CO2
As Tina Casey reports, Rick Perry understands the world’s oceans are getting warmer, but doesn’t really understand the reason why. However, the scientists at NASA and MIT do. They have released a new study detailing how the oceans absorb heat, carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases. Once absorbed, they can remain stored in the waters of the world for centuries.
By Steve Hanley
The study used sophisticated computer models that showed the oceans are better able to absorb gases over time than they are able to absorb heat. Warming temperatures result in lower absorption of gases and greatly decrease their ability to take more heat out of the atmosphere. The findings were published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
“As the ocean slows down, it will keep uptaking gases like carbon dioxide more efficiently, much more than it will keep uptaking heat. It will have a different behavior for chemistry than it has for temperature,” said Anastasia Romanou, lead author and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University in New York City. Along with colleagues at MIT, Romanou used the NASA GISS ocean model and the MIT general circulation model to simulate the behavior of the Gulf Stream.
The Gulf Stream acts like a giant conveyor belt, transferring warm water from Florida to Greenland, absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases along the way. When it reaches Greenland, it plunges and carries the warmth and dissolved gases downward toward the the ocean floor where they can remain for long periods of time.
Tracking CFCs In The Gulf Stream
The data for the study was supplied by ocean researchers who took samples all along the route of the Gulf Stream and noted the concentration of CFCs, also known as chloroflourocarbons. These are the gases involved in refrigeration systems that also cause holes in the ozone layer. Near the equator, CFCs are only found near the surface. In northern regions, they are found at deeper and deeper levels.
“I think of it as a colored dye,” says study co-author John Marshall, a professor of oceanography at MIT. “If I have a bucket of water and just stir it around and put some food coloring in it, the dye goes down into the water, and it doesn’t influence the circulation of the water.” Such markers only give an approximate picture of what happens in the real world. “The results show that we need to think differently about how the ocean responds to taking up heat and passive tracers or greenhouse gases. Then we need to study them in parallel but using different methods,” Romanou said.
“Most of the excess heat from climate change will go into the ocean eventually, we think,” Romanou said. “Most of the excess chemical pollutants and greenhouse gases will be buried in the ocean. But the truth is that the ocean recirculates that extra load and, at some point, will release some of it back to the atmosphere, where it will keep raising temperatures, even if future carbon dioxide emissions were to be much lower than they are now.”
This eventual release of buried gases and heat from the oceans is sometimes called the “warming in the pipeline” or “warming commitment” that people will eventually have to contend with, Romanou says. NASA has created a video that helps non-scientists visualize the process more accurately.
So What If The Oceans Get Warmer?
Warming oceans are a huge concern for the planet. Unlike humans who can adapt to life in a wide range of temperatures, most ocean creatures cannot survive if water temperatures change even a few degrees. The algae that give coral reef their distinctive colors can die off if the water temperature rises a degree or two. Krill, the microscopic animals that are the beginning of the food chain for many ocean denizens, are also susceptible to small changes in temperature, according to National Geographic.
The more carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans, the more acidic they become. Think of it. Carbon dioxide is what puts the fizz in soft drinks, beer, and champagne. How likely is it that ocean creatures would survive in an environment as acidic as Coca Cola? There is one other aspect of ocean warming that few people are aware of. Water expands in volume as its temperature rises. Warmer oceans exacerbate rising sea levels.
So yes, former governor Perry, the world’s oceans do play a significant role in climate change as they increase in temperature. But it is the reason why they are getting warmer that Perry’s oil-addled brain cannot grasp.
Faith-Based Science Is An Oxymoron
People can argue about carbon dioxide and whether it causes global warming if they want to, but the truth is the environment seems to have already reached a tipping point where it is unable to continue absorbing more and more heat produced from mankind’s activities, including burning fossil fuels for energy that is available naturally from the sun, the wind, and other renewable sources.
If mankind stopped adding heat and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere today, the increase in global temperatures would likely continue for 50 to 100 years before any cooling begins. These arguments are like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Average temperatures are likely to rise up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit during our grandchildren’s lifetime if we continue to do nothing.
Climate change deniers cheered Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accords. They laughed about how the US planned to spend a trillion dollars just to save 0.3º C (which, of course, was a complete lie). “How stupid can people be, huh?” Oddly, those same people are completely comfortable with the $5 trillion the International Monetary Fund says the fossil fuel companies derive in direct and indirect subsidies every year. Go figure why one number creates such consternation while the other is conveniently ignored.
(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)