Salinity changes in the World Ocean since 1950 in relation to changing surface freshwater fluxes
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Global hydrographic and air–sea freshwater flux datasets are used to investigate ocean salinity changes over 1950–2010 in relation to surface freshwater flux. On multi-decadal timescales, surface salinity increases (decreases) in evaporation (precipitation) dominated regions, the Atlantic–Pacific salinity contrast increases, and the upper thermocline salinity maximum increases while the salinity minimum of intermediate waters decreases. Potential trends in E–P are examined for 1950–2010 (using two reanalyses) and 1979–2010 (using four reanalyses and two blended products). Large differences in the 1950–2010 E–P trend patterns are evident in several regions, particularly the North Atlantic. For 1979–2010 some coherency in the spatial change patterns is evident but there is still a large spread in trend magnitude and sign between the six E–P products. However, a robust pattern of increased E–P in the southern hemisphere subtropical gyres is seen in all products. There is also some evidence in the tropical Pacific for a link between the spatial change patterns of salinity and E–P associated with ENSO. The water cycle amplification rate over specific regions is subsequently inferred from the observed 3-D salinity change field using a salt conservation equation in variable isopycnal volumes, implicitly accounting for the migration of isopycnal surfaces. Inferred global changes of E–P over 1950–2010 amount to an increase of 1 ± 0.6 % in net evaporation across the subtropics and an increase of 4.2 ± 2 % in net precipitation across subpolar latitudes. Amplification rates are approximately doubled over 1979–2010, consistent with accelerated broad-scale warming but also coincident with much improved salinity sampling over the latter period.
KeywordsSalinity Freshwater flux Evaporation Precipitation Hydrological cycle
This study was part of the “HydrOlogical cYcle Understanding vIa Process-bAsed GlObal Detection, Attribution and prediction (Horyuji PAGODA)”, supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council as part of the “Changing Water Cycle” programme (Grant No. NE/I006222/1). Simon Good was supported by the Joint DECC and Defra Integrated Climate Programme, DECC/Defra (GA01101). We are grateful to two anonymous referees for their extremely thorough and constructive reviews.
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