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Climate change pushed ocean temperatures to record high in 2020, study finds

Climate change pushed ocean temperatures to record high in 2020, study finds

The world's oceans absorbed 20 sextillion joules of heat due to climate change in 2020 and warmed to record levels, a study has found.

Key points:

-Last year the world's oceans absorbed 20 zettajoules of heat

-Higher ocean temperatures can lead to an increase in extreme weather

-Seas are warming at twice the global average in Australia's south-east

That quantity — expressed numerically as 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules — is equivalent to the energy from 10 Hiroshima atomic bombs being released every second of the year.

Report co-author Kevin Trenberth, from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, said oceans absorbed more than 90 per cent of the solar energy trapped by greenhouse gases.

"There's a tremendous amount of energy that's actually involved in this — it's not surprising that it has consequences," he said.

"Since about the mid-1990s, at least, the oceans have been warming very steadily.

"In fact, they are the best single indicator that the planet is warming."

Danger by degrees

The study came as scientists confirmed that global air temperatures in 2020 were equal to 2016 — the hottest on record — and as Australia experienced its fourth hottest year on record.

"The ocean is a key controller of the climate that we see on the continent of Australia," CSIRO oceanographer Bernadette Sloyan said.

She said warmer oceans could lead to increases in extreme weather.
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