Monitoring ocean temperatures has never been a day at the beach because the oceans are immense and deep. But that information is critical to understanding climate change since warmer water affects rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and weather.

Durack: “When we think about global warming, what we’re really thinking about — to be honest — is warming of the ocean.”

That’s Paul Durack, an oceanographer at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. In 2004, a global network of ocean buoys known as Argo began collecting data. Today there are more than 3,500 buoys worldwide. Durack uses this data to study ocean temperatures.

Durack: “What our studies uncovered is that we might have missed a fairly large portion of the heat that was stored in the ocean that we just haven’t been able to observe due to the previously poor coverage.”

Durack says that if the oceans have been storing more heat than previously understood, Earth could be warming even more than we thought.

Durack: “That isn’t really good news when it comes to global warming.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Akin to having a fleet of miniature research vessels, the global flotilla of more than 3,600 robotic profiling floats provides crucial information on upper layers of the world’s ocean currents. Photo by Alicia Navidad/CSIRO. Source: Lawrence Livermore National Lab

More Resources
Graphs of the heat change in the top 700 meters of the ocean, and the top 2000 meters.
A broader view of the role of humans in the climate system
Mystery of Ocean Heat Deepens as Climate Changes
Varying planetary heat sink led to global-warming slowdown and acceleration
Earth’s missing heat may be hiding in the deep Atlantic

David Appell

A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections since 2012, David Appell, Ph.D., is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon, specializing in the physical sciences, technology, and the environment. His...