Pacific Ocean Warm Spots Could Be Culprit in Global Warming

Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean is typically known for being a bit frigid along the coast of the western edge of the United States because of the Arctic current traveling down from the north, but new research implies that it has some “warm spots” causing quite an impact.  The Pacific Ocean has some “warm spots” off the east coast of Papua New Guinea that are being held responsible for much of the drastic melting of the Arctic glaciers, and they could be the culprit in this devastating effect of global warming.

In the research published earlier this week in the journal Nature, the international team of scientists are making some new claims about glacial melting.  It is widely assumed that an increase in the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are the main factor in the cascading and deleterious effects that global warming is having on the planet’s environmental stability. Dr. Qinghua Ding and his research team of atmospheric scientists at University of Washington have stated that while carbon dioxide emission is mainly responsible, it is not the only force at play in climate change. Dr. Ailie Gallant and her team of researchers at Monash University in Australia have concurred.

There is a “sweet spot,” or unusually warm portion of the Pacific Ocean just east of Papua New Guinea that is to blame for some natural global warming effects.  Although human-induced alterations to the environment have certainly exacerbated the spiking temperatures in the Arctic and elsewhere, scientists found that global warming culprits are evenly split between the all-time high levels of carbon dioxide emissions escaping from the built environment and the warm tropical patches in the south Pacific Ocean.  That is to say, nature is just as much to blame as people.

The team looked at glacial melt over Greenland, and observed that the so-called warm Pacific Ocean spots near Papua New Guinea could account for changes taking place almost 8,000 miles northeast.  Evidence supports the idea that natural effects may be responsible for variations in the surface temperature, increasing it by half a degree per decade over the past 30 years.

The team chose to focus on Greenland because the rate of warming in the Arctic is occurring almost twice as rapidly as anywhere else on Earth.  Researchers are hoping that closely examining possible factors in the most affected corner of the global environment may generate clues that could help reduce the effects of climate change overall.

Just how much have things changed?  Climate change is now a household term, and the latest data has alarmed environmental experts and political leaders worldwide.  There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than ever previously recorded, and areas near the poles have been warming at a rate of 1 degree Celsius per decade.

Gallant and her team reflect that natural variations such as the “warm spots” in the Pacific Ocean are a significant culprit in global warming, accounting for roughly 50 percent of observable effects. Until now, it has been unclear how much of the climate change phenomenon could be attributed to humans and how much might just be the natural order of things.

If ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean drop, it may be possible that the rate of melting in Greenland, Canada and other icy Arctic areas may slow.  The observations and advanced computer models used to come to these conclusions do little to confirm whether global warming will continue at the same rate, but researchers do point out that human-induced effects can definitely slow down the damaging changes.

How can one place in the Pacific Ocean effect something that takes place so far away, in a completely different ocean?  Dr. Gallant explained in an interview that it is similar to throwing a rock in a pond to achieve a “ripple effect.” The warmer ocean temperatures in the south Pacific Ocean that could be a culprit in global warming create atmospheric signals similar to those of El Niño storm systems, and the ripples can travel a great distance across the atmosphere, in this case the Arctic region.  More research is expected to take place, but for now scientists warn that human effects are likely to outpace natural ones.

By Erica Salcuni


ABC Radio Australia
Digital Journal
Monash University

One Response to "Pacific Ocean Warm Spots Could Be Culprit in Global Warming"

  1. Abel Adamski   May 12, 2014 at 12:52 am

    What is the mechanism behind those hot spots, after all the evidence so far is that much of the warming has been going into the ocean and how do the deep an upper ocean currents disperse that heat. Are we talking a circular argument chicken/egg

You must be logged in to post a comment Login