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Oceans have been absorbing the world’s extra heat. But there’s a huge payback

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By the end of March, the surface temperature of the world’s oceans was above anything seen in the 40 years that satellites have been measuring it.

Records were “headed off the charts” and, as the heat refused to fade for more than a month, the Earth marched into “uncharted territory”, scientists said.

The temperature at the ocean’s surface – like on land – is being pushed higher by global heating but can jump around from one year to the next as weather systems come and go.

But in the 2km below the surface, that variability is almost nowhere to be seen. The rising heat down there has been on a relentless climb for decades, thanks to burning fossil fuels.

“The heat-holding capacity of the ocean is mammoth,” says Dr Paul Durack, a research scientist specialising in ocean measurements and modelling at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“The ocean captures more than 90% of the imbalance of energy that we’re creating because of anthropogenic climate change.”

The ocean is much less reflective than the land and soaks up more of the…

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