Research Article

Varying planetary heat sink led to global-warming slowdown and acceleration

Science  22 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6199, pp. 897-903
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254937

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Deep-sea warming slows down global warming

Global warming seems to have paused over the past 15 years while the deep ocean takes the heat instead. The thermal capacity of the oceans far exceeds that of the atmosphere, so the oceans can store up to 90% of the heat buildup caused by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Chen and Tung used observational data to trace the pathways of recent ocean heating. They conclude that the deep Atlantic and Southern Oceans, but not the Pacific, have absorbed the excess heat that would otherwise have fueled continued warming.

Science, this issue p. 897

Abstract

A vacillating global heat sink at intermediate ocean depths is associated with different climate regimes of surface warming under anthropogenic forcing: The latter part of the 20th century saw rapid global warming as more heat stayed near the surface. In the 21st century, surface warming slowed as more heat moved into deeper oceans. In situ and reanalyzed data are used to trace the pathways of ocean heat uptake. In addition to the shallow La Niña–like patterns in the Pacific that were the previous focus, we found that the slowdown is mainly caused by heat transported to deeper layers in the Atlantic and the Southern oceans, initiated by a recurrent salinity anomaly in the subpolar North Atlantic. Cooling periods associated with the latter deeper heat-sequestration mechanism historically lasted 20 to 35 years.

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