Occasionally, as in the past decade, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase, but the increase in average world air temperatures seems to "pause." (Not that the past decade wasn't the hottest on record — it's just that climate scientists thought it could have been even hotter.)
Now, scientists are figuring out where that extra heat went: into the oceans. Specifically, into the deep oceans, below 1,000 feet beneath the surface. The world's oceans can hold vastly more heat energy than the atmosphere, so this isn't a big surprise, although it's nice to have some confirmation.
"This study suggests the missing energy has indeed been buried in the ocean," NCAR's Kevin Trenberth, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. "The heat has not disappeared and so it cannot be ignored. It must have consequences."
What this means for the future is that even as temperatures continue to rise, there will be pauses in their steady upward climb, as the oceans ingest a portion of that heat and keep it out of the atmosphere. That's not necessarily a good thing — for one, it will change deep ocean circulation, which could do truly frightening things to the earth ecosystem in the long run. Also, these pauses will no doubt continue to be used by deniers and delayers to argue that climate change somehow isn't up to their bizarro, alternate-reality standards of evidence.
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