JAN 11, 2019 12:27 PM PST

The Pacific Ocean's Long-term Memory

Research published earlier this month suggests that the deepest waters of the Pacific ocean may not be following the warming trend of the last century – instead the deep Pacific may in fact be cooling. The study comes from researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Harvard University and was published in the journal Science.

Lead author of the study and a physical oceanographer at WHOI, Jake Gebbie described the phenomenon as the ocean’s long-term memory. "These waters are so old and haven't been near the surface in so long, they still 'remember' what was going on hundreds of years ago when Europe experienced some of its coldest winters in history.”

Gebbie and his team determined this using a model of the ocean to predict the warming and cooling periods across time. Their hypothesis was based on the knowledge that our planet’s climate, and therefore oceans, changes in cycles. "Climate varies across all timescales," commented co-author Peter Huybers. "Some regional warming and cooling patterns, like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period, are well known. Our goal was to develop a model of how the interior properties of the ocean respond to changes in surface climate."

They later tested the model with empirical data of ocean temperature measurements taken by scientists aboard the HMS Challenger in the 1870s and modern observations from the World Ocean Circulation Experiment of the 1990s and found that the deep Pacific waters are still a couple hundred years behind the rest of the ocean in terms of temperature. “If the surface ocean was generally cooling for the better part of the last millennium, those parts of the ocean most isolated from modern warming may still be cooling," said Gebbie.

The deep Pacific ocean lags centuries behind current warming temperatures. Photo: Pixabay

Interestingly, while past studies measuring heat absorption by the oceans had assumed that the oceans had been in equilibrium at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, this study contradicts that idea. In fact, according to Science Daily, Gebbie and Huybers estimate that about 30% of the heat absorbed during the 20th century was due to deep Pacific cooling.

"Part of the heat needed to bring the ocean into equilibrium with an atmosphere having more greenhouse gases was apparently already present in the deep Pacific," explained Huybers. "These findings increase the impetus for understanding the causes of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age as a way for better understanding modern warming trends."

Sources: Science , Science Daily

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
AUG 10, 2022
Space & Astronomy
New Study Discusses Circle of Life for Supermassive Black Holes
AUG 10, 2022
New Study Discusses Circle of Life for Supermassive Black Holes
In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal, an international team of researchers discuss how black holes e ...
AUG 16, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
AUG 16, 2022
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
During the Cold War, the US military launched a secret project to spy on the Soviet Union by sending microphones attache ...
AUG 22, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Modern Heat Waves Feel Worse Than Heat Index Suggests
AUG 22, 2022
Modern Heat Waves Feel Worse Than Heat Index Suggests
In a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters, a pair of researchers at the University of California at ...
AUG 29, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Plastics Created from Carbon Dioxide Instead of Petroleum
AUG 29, 2022
Plastics Created from Carbon Dioxide Instead of Petroleum
In a recent study published in Reaction Chemistry & Engineering, a team of researchers from Japan discuss how artifi ...
SEP 13, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Greater Than 1.1 Million Sea Turtles Poached Over The Last 30 Years
SEP 13, 2022
Greater Than 1.1 Million Sea Turtles Poached Over The Last 30 Years
In a recent study published in Global Change Biology, an international team of researchers led by Arizona State Universi ...
SEP 30, 2022
Health & Medicine
Glyphosate, Now Found in Humans, Can Cause Convulsions in Animals
SEP 30, 2022
Glyphosate, Now Found in Humans, Can Cause Convulsions in Animals
Glyphosate is the chemical in a product called Roundup that kills weeds, especially grasses and broadleaf weeds that com ...
Loading Comments...