Oceans are warmer, higher and more acidic, climate report warns

They prevent flooding with sandbags on a beach in Fiji

  • The temperature of the world’s oceans reached an all-time high in 2021 with unprecedented levels of acidity.
  • Average temperatures were 1.11 degrees Celsius, inching closer to the disastrous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • The sea level has risen 4.5 centimeters in the last decade.

The world’s oceans in 2021 reached their warmest and most acidic levels on record, while melting ice sheets helped raise sea levels to new heights, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday.

The oceans saw the most surprising extremes when the WMO detailed a variety of turbulence triggered by climate change in its annual “State of the Global Climate” report.

WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas said in a statement:

Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come.

The WMO report follows the latest United Nations climate assessment, which warned that humanity must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions or face increasingly catastrophic changes in the global climate.

Carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere in 2021 surpassed previous records, the WMO said.

Globally, last year’s average temperature was 1.11 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, as the world inched closer to the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold beyond which effects are expected to of warming are drastic.

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Last year’s temperatures moderated slightly compared to 2020 due to the cooling effects of La Niña in the Pacific, although the year was still among the seven warmest years on record.

Talalas said:

It is only a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record.

The oceans bear much of the burden of warming and emissions. Bodies of water absorb about 90% of the heat accumulated on Earth and 23% of carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

The ocean has warmed noticeably faster over the past 20 years, reaching a new high in 2021, and is expected to warm even more, according to the report. That change is likely to take centuries or millennia to reverse, he noted.

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The ocean is also now the most acidic in at least 26,000 years, as it absorbs and reacts with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Sea level has risen 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) in the last decade, with an annual rise from 2013 to 2021 more than double what it was from 1993 to 2002.

The WMO also listed individual extreme heat waves, wildfires, floods and other weather-related disasters around the world, noting reports of more than $100 billion in damage.

The continental United States saw its hottest summer on record, with hundreds of heat-related deaths on record. The Dixie Fire burned 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometers), making it the largest wildfire in California history.

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