Where does most of the heat trapped by human fossil fuel and other greenhouse gas emissions ultimately end up? Given our fixation on global surface temperatures, many people would say ‘the atmosphere.’ But this answer is incorrect. The vast majority ends up in the world ocean.
(Global change in ocean heat content through 2015. Image source: Skeptical Science and CMIP5.)
The world ocean system is the largest heat sink on our planet’s surface. This is due to the fact that liquid water contained in the oceans both has a far greater mass and overall heat capacity than the atmosphere. Just a fraction — less than 1/30th of the heat trapped by human-emitted greenhouse gasses ends up in the atmosphere. Similar portions end up getting soaked in by the land and by melting glaciers. The rest, about 90 percent, finds its way into the oceans.
The ocean is thus the…
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