fact, measurements of changes in ocean heat content show that 80 to 90 percent of the heating associated with human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the past 50 years has gone into raising the temperature of the oceans (Levitus et al., 2001; Trenberth and Fasullo, 2010) (see Figure 7.3). One consequence of the large thermal capacity of the oceans is that it takes many years for the climate system to warm in response to GHG emissions; for example, as discussed in Chapter 6, global surface temperatures would continue to warm for many decades even if GHG concentrations and other climate forcings were stabilized at present values). Moreover, as heat is absorbed by the oceans, the volume of the water expands, causing sea levels to rise. Approximately 50 percent of the observed sea level rise since the late 19th century has been attributed to thermal expansion of the warming oceans (Gornitz et al., 1982).
Ocean expansion is neither spatially uniform nor steady in time (Levitus et al., 2009; Lozier et al., 2008). Over the last half century, ocean thermal expansion has varied from approximately one quarter of the total sea level contribution (1961-1993) to a