A startling new study is shedding new light on how much energy has been put into the Earth's oceans over the past 150 years — the equivalent of an atomic bomb explosion every second for 150 years.
The study, published by researchers at the University of Oxford, shows that 90 percent of heat trapped by greenhouse gases since 1871 has been held by the Earth's oceans, a revelation that has been described as "worrisome," with potential major ramifications for the climate.
"Most of the excess energy stored in the climate system due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions has been taken up by the oceans, leading to thermal expansion and sea-level rise," the study's abstract reads. "The oceans thus have an important role in the Earth’s energy imbalance. Observational constraints on future anthropogenic warming critically depend on accurate estimates of past ocean heat content (OHC) change."
Laure Zanna, who is the lead researcher on the study, found that the amount of energy that has been trapped is 436 ×10^21 joules. The Guardian calculated (one that has been independently verified by Fox News) that this is the equivalent of 1.5 Hiroshima bombs being dropped per second.
“I try not to make this type of calculation, simply because I find it worrisome,” Zanna told the news outlet, but added that it is obvious that "we are putting a lot of excess energy into the climate system and a lot of that ends up in the ocean. There is no doubt.”
Put another way, the amount of energy being absorbed by the ocean's is the equivalent of 1,000 times the entire global population every year, Zanna told Weather.com.
In a statement accompanying the research, Oxford University professor Samar Khatiwala, who also worked on the study, likened the team's approach to painting.
"Our approach is akin to 'painting' different bits of the ocean surface with dyes of different colors and monitoring how they spread into the interior over time," Khatiwala said in the release.
Khatiwala continued: "If we know what the sea surface temperature anomaly was in 1870 in the North Atlantic Ocean we can figure out how much it contributes to the warming in, say, the deep Indian Ocean in 2018. The idea goes back nearly 200 years to the English mathematician George Green."
Within the last 60 years, the researchers noted that the changes in ocean circulation are responsible for up to one-half the warming and sea-level rise seen in the Atlantic Ocean.
The change in ocean circulation has not been pinned exclusively on man-made causes and the researchers said that further study is needed to figure out the root cause of it.
However, Zanna noted the technique seen is "only applicable to tracers like man-made carbon that are passively transported by ocean circulation."
Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia