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Record Ocean warming in 2021


Ocean warming in 2021: Relevance

  • GS 3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Ocean warming in 2021: Context

  • According to the recently published analysis in the Advances in Atmospheric Sciences journal, world’s oceans underwent record warming in 2021.


Record Ocean warming in 2021: Key points

  • The report has stated that, the upper 2,000 metres of the ocean absorbed 235 zettajoules (ZJ) of heat in 2021 relative to the 1981-2010 average.
  • The sum of the energy used by humans across the world in a single year is about half a ZJ (one ZJ is equal to 10^21 joules).
  • The warming rates in 1986-2021 represents a maximum eight-fold increase compared to 1958–85.


Ocean warming in 2021: How oceans heat up?

  • Oceans stabilise Earth’s climate by absorbing large amounts of heat from sunlight, water vapour and other greenhouse gases.
  • The heat absorbed by the oceans find its way back into the atmosphere through melting ice shelves, evaporating water or directly reheating the atmosphere.
  • If the ocean absorbs more heat than it releases, its heat content rises.
  • Oceans are absorbing most of the heating from human carbon emissions like carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, due to which there is an energy imbalance.
  • The experts have stated that the heating of ocean will continue until we reach net-zero carbon emissions.


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Ocean warming in 2021: Impact of El Niño and La Niña

  • During El Niño, the oceans release some amount of heat, contributing to a mini global warming. So, the warmest years in terms of surface temperature are El Niño years.
  • During La Niña, oceans take up heat and bury it at depths away from the surface.
  • Expert is of the opinion that this amount of energy is huge for the atmosphere, but the cumulative effect on ocean warming is much less.


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Record Ocean warming in 2021: Effect on coastal communities

  • Melting ice accelerates sea-level rise. Also, as oceans heat up, water expands (thermal expansion of water). This leads to an increase in the volume of water.
  • Warmer oceans also supercharge weather systems, creating more powerful storms and hurricanes, as well as increasing precipitation and flood risk.
  • The experts recommended that the coastal communities need to modify engineering designs, building codes and coastal development plans to tackle increased sea-level rise, as they are the first to bear the brunt of sea-level change.


Record Ocean warming in 2021: Effect on marine life

  • Warming oceans could result in increased ocean stratification or separation, causing less mixing of the ocean layers.
  • It means that heat, oxygen and carbon dioxide are not transported from the surface to the oceanic depths. It affects the marine life in the aphotic zones and the benthic zone.



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