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135 years of global ocean warming between the Challenger expedition and the Argo Programme

Roemmich, Dean; Gould, W. John; Gilson, John. 2012 135 years of global ocean warming between the Challenger expedition and the Argo Programme. Nature Climate Change, 2. 425-428. 10.1038/nclimate1461

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Abstract/Summary

Changing temperature throughout the oceans is a key indicator of climate change. Since the 1960s about 90% of the excess heat added to the Earth’s climate system has been stored in the oceans1, 2. The ocean’s dominant role over the atmosphere, land, or cryosphere comes from its high heat capacity and ability to remove heat from the sea surface by currents and mixing. The longest interval over which instrumental records of subsurface global-scale temperature can be compared is the 135 years between the voyage of HMS Challenger3 (1872–1876) and the modern data set of the Argo Programme4 (2004–2010). Argo’s unprecedented global coverage permits its comparison with any earlier measurements. This, the first global-scale comparison of Challenger and modern data, shows spatial mean warming at the surface of 0.59 °C±0.12, consistent with previous estimates5 of globally averaged sea surface temperature increase. Below the surface the mean warming decreases to 0.39 °C±0.18 at 366 m (200 fathoms) and 0.12 °C±0.07 at 914 m (500 fathoms). The 0.33 °C±0.14 average temperature difference from 0 to 700 m is twice the value observed globally in that depth range over the past 50 years6, implying a centennial timescale for the present rate of global warming. Warming in the Atlantic Ocean is stronger than in the Pacific. Systematic errors in the Challenger data mean that these temperature changes are a lower bound on the actual values. This study underlines the scientific significance of the Challenger expedition and the modern Argo Programme and indicates that globally the oceans have been warming at least since the late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1038/nclimate1461
Programmes: NOC Programmes
ISSN: 1758678X
Additional Keywords: Cryospheric science, Detection and Attribution, Earth sciences, Oceanography
Date made live: 04 Apr 2012 08:28 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/436784

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