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
  • 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
SEP 17, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Concerns about carbon monoxide concentrations from CA's wildfires
SEP 17, 2020
Concerns about carbon monoxide concentrations from CA's wildfires
As California faces its worst wildfire season yet, with 28 major fires burning throughout the state as of September 14, ...
OCT 12, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Improving activated powdered carbon to prevent algal blooms in drinking water treatment
OCT 12, 2020
Improving activated powdered carbon to prevent algal blooms in drinking water treatment
In a study published in the journal Water Research, researchers from The Korea Institute of Science and Technology ...
NOV 20, 2020
Microbiology
Heavy Metal Exposure Raises Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Germs in Cows
NOV 20, 2020
Heavy Metal Exposure Raises Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Germs in Cows
Antibiotic-resistant microbes are considered to be a major public health threat. The overuse of antibiotics is thought t ...
NOV 21, 2020
Earth & The Environment
The first ever global bee diversity map
NOV 21, 2020
The first ever global bee diversity map
A study reported in the journal Current Biology showcases the first global map of bee diversity. Designed by a coll ...
DEC 04, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Fusions in Action: Scientists Confirm a Different Way the Sun Produces Energy
DEC 04, 2020
Fusions in Action: Scientists Confirm a Different Way the Sun Produces Energy
Since its formation, the Sun has been the main power source for all objects within its irradiation range, putting out 3. ...
JAN 05, 2021
Microbiology
Finding ways to Culture Bacteria From Extreme Environments
JAN 05, 2021
Finding ways to Culture Bacteria From Extreme Environments
In order to study bacteria, it has to be grown in the lab. That’s no problem for many common strains of bacteria t ...
Loading Comments...