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Patterns of change in sea surface temperature in the North Atlantic during the last three decades: beyond mean trends

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Abstract

Sea surface temperature (SST) is an important indicator of changes in the climate system and a key driver of marine ecosystems. Here we studied the strength and spatial patterns of changes in North Atlantic SST during the last three decades (1982–2010). Regional and local patterns of change were studied using data derived from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) sensors. Apart from changes in mean SST, we studied changes in the seasonal cycle, in the spatial patterning of temperature anomalies and in the location of selected isotherms. We quantified the degree of nonlinearity in mean SST as an indicator of the rate at which SST trends changed during the study period. Changes in the timing and intensity of seasonal extremes were explored, and a heuristic method was used to derive the length of the period of stratification and to estimate its variation. Our results were in general coherent with the main impacts predicted by climate change projections, with greatest changes located at northern latitudes and near land. Marked variation in the spatial patterns was also found for different variables, strengthening the view that physical changes could be promoting the arrangement of novel marine biological communities. The observed changes in ocean SST highlighted the need of a more local and regional focus in future climate change studies.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) for the availability, production and maintenance of NOAA-Optimum Interpolation 1/4 Degree Daily Sea Surface Temperature Analysis (OISST version 2), especially Chunying Liu and Richard W. Reynolds. Jorge A. Sostres provided support and helped us with data management and analyses. Isabel Martínez, Juan Höfer, José Luis Acuña and Nick F. Weidberg provided valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. Peter Cornillon and an anonymous reviewer provided valuable advice and detailed reviews which improved the quality of this manuscript and which are greatly acknowledged. FGT acknowledges a FICYT “Severo Ochoa” grant (PCTI 2006–2009, Gobierno del Principado de Asturias). This work was supported by projects CARPOS, COSTAS and DOS MARES (REN2003-09532-C03-03, CTM2006-05588/MAR and CTM2010-21810-C03-02, Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Gobierno de España).

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Correspondence to Fernando González Taboada.

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Taboada, F.G., Anadón, R. Patterns of change in sea surface temperature in the North Atlantic during the last three decades: beyond mean trends. Climatic Change 115, 419–431 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-012-0485-6

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