At COP21 in Paris policy makers expressed a strong desire to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, at the time this conference was held the 1 degree limit had already been surpassed.
A great graphic from skeptical science shows that from 1993 to 2003 93.4% of climate change induced heat change went into the ocean:
65% of the additional heat in the oceans is accumulating in the upper 700m with a further 20% between 700m and 2000m and the remaining 15% below 2000m.
Because of the mass and heat capacity of the oceans they are slow to heat up and then slow to cool down. The oceans are currently on average around 1 – 2 degrees warmer than the atmosphere so tend to transfer heat into the air. By most estimates it will take about 1000 years for the atmosphere and ocean to come back into equilibrium once greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilized. One study has indicated that 2.4 degrees of warming is already baked into the next 1000 years.
Jim Baird suggests one possible response to this is to try and move as much surface heat in the ocean into deeper waters and derive energy from such a movement.
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) could move heat from the surface to an intermediate water layer and generate power as a result of the second law of thermodynamics. The oceans could then be used as a global warming buffer delaying the onset of the serious and imminent consequences and generate much needed clean energy at the same time.