The NOAA Ocean Heat Content Intensity Forecasting.
From Forbes by Eric Mack
While we can’t say that climate change causes El Nino, the evidence is mounting that the warming of our planet could be intensifying the natural phenomenon, which in turn can lead to some extreme weather events.
New research published today in the journal Nature Climate Change found that half of the warming of our oceans seen since 1865 has happened in the past twenty years.
“Since the 1990s, the total amount of heat content change in the oceans is twice that of what we’d seen up until that point in the past 150 years,” said Chris Forest, a Penn State meteorology professor and coauthor of the paper.
While El Nino and La Nina are cyclical phenomena, they are powered by warm water in the Pacific and this current El Nino is accompanied by record-setting ocean temperatures.
The combination has already led to a series of intense storms and flooding in line with the effects of previous strong El Nino years.
While the new research does not attempt to link the data on warming oceans to the current El Nino, some see a correlation in that the two strongest El Nino events we’ve seen have occurred in that same twenty year window.
Pacific and Atlantic meridional sections showing upper-ocean warming for the most recent complete decade. Red colors indicate a warming (positive) anomaly and blue colors indicate a cooling (negative) anomaly.
(Source: Timo Bremer/LLNL)
“Yes, the randomness of weather is playing a role here.
But these (El Nino) events have been supercharged by the extra energy in an atmosphere made warmer and moister by human-caused climate change,” Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University said in December.
According to the new research, ocean warmth is somewhat akin to the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the effects of climate change on the planet.
That’s because our oceans’ heat capacity accounts for 90 percent of the heat gained by the climate system over the last several decades.
Here’s how a release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the research explains it:
Quantifying how much heat is accumulating in the Earth system is critical to improving the understanding of climate change already under way and to better assess how much more to expect in decades and centuries to come. It is vital to improving projections of how much and how fast the Earth will warm and seas rise in the future.
“It’s really the true signature of climate change in the Earth system records,” said Forest.
“Melting glaciers and ice sheets, reduction of sea ice — these are all signals we are seeing, but this tells us there is a change in the energy balance of the planet in a strong sense.”
That could mean that the flooding and intense weather seen around the globe in recent months are a mere prelude to El Nino years still to come.
- The Guardian : World's oceans warming at increasingly faster rate, new study finds
- WashingtonPost : This is where 90 percent of global warming is going