A new way of measuring ocean temperatures could lead to more accurate modelling of global warming.

Rising temperatures will lead to rising sea levels, but what many may not realise is that most of the increase in energy in the climate system is occurring in the ocean.  

Now a study from UNSW Sydney and CSIRO researchers has shown that a relatively new ocean temperature measuring program – the Argo system of profiling floats – can show

which climate modelling for the 21st century is most likely to play out. 

“The models that projected very high absorption of heat by the ocean by 2100 also have unrealistically high ocean absorption over the Argo period of measurement,” Professor John Church from UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Likewise, there are models with lower heat absorption in the future that also don’t correspond to the Argo data. 

“So we have effectively used the Argo observations to say; ‘Which of these models best agree with the observations and therefore constrain projections for the future?’”

Named after the boat which Greek mythological hero Jason travelled on in search of the golden fleece, the Argo floats are loaded with high-tech equipment that measures ocean temperatures to depths of up to 2,000 metres.

Each Argo float sends measurements to satellites which then beams the results to analysis centres around the world.

There are more than 3,500 floats dispersed around the globe, with the bulk of them managed by the US (more than 2,000) while Australia accounts for the next highest number of floats, numbering 317.

Professor Church says the Argo floats offer a new level of accuracy in temperature measurement. 

Not only are the high-tech instruments more reliable than in the past, but the coverage of the planet’s oceans is so much more thorough.

“Previously we depended on research ships making very high accuracy measurements, but only in very restricted areas,” he said. 

“Or we would get merchant ships to drop expendable instruments into the water which gave better coverage, but with much less accurate instruments.

“Using these approaches, there were much larger gaps in the Southern Ocean because these waters were less trafficked.”

The ubiquity of the Argo floats offers unprecedented real-time monitoring of ocean temperatures that will help oceanographers and climate scientists constrain their climate projections based on this higher resolution and accuracy of data.

More details are accessible here.