Correcting datasets leads to more homogeneous early-twentieth-century sea surface warming

Chan, Duo; Kent, Elizabeth C. ORCID:; Berry, David I.; Huybers, Peter. 2019 Correcting datasets leads to more homogeneous early-twentieth-century sea surface warming. Nature, 571 (7765). 393-397.

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Existing estimates of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) indicate that, during the early twentieth century, the North Atlantic and northeast Pacific oceans warmed by twice the global average, whereas the northwest Pacific Ocean cooled by an amount equal to the global average1,2,3,4. Such a heterogeneous pattern suggests first-order contributions from regional variations in forcing or in ocean–atmosphere heat fluxes5,6. These older SST estimates are, however, derived from measurements of water temperatures in ship-board buckets, and must be corrected for substantial biases7,8,9. Here we show that correcting for offsets among groups of bucket measurements leads to SST variations that correlate better with nearby land temperatures and are more homogeneous in their pattern of warming. Offsets are identified by systematically comparing nearby SST observations among different groups10. Correcting for offsets in German measurements decreases warming rates in the North Atlantic, whereas correcting for Japanese measurement offsets leads to increased and more uniform warming in the North Pacific. Japanese measurement offsets in the 1930s primarily result from records having been truncated to whole degrees Celsius when the records were digitized in the 1960s. These findings underscore the fact that historical SST records reflect both physical and social dimensions in data collection, and suggest that further opportunities exist for improving the accuracy of historical SST records9,11.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 0028-0836
Date made live: 05 Aug 2019 15:53 +0 (UTC)

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