Sea surface temperature

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Annual (thin lines) and five-year lowess smooth (thick lines) for the temperature anomalies averaged over the Earth's land area and sea surface temperature anomalies (blue line) averaged over the part of the ocean that is free of ice at all times (open ocean). Annual Mean Temperature Change for Land and for Ocean NASA GISTEMP 2017 October.png
Annual (thin lines) and five-year lowess smooth (thick lines) for the temperature anomalies averaged over the Earth’s land area and sea surface temperature anomalies (blue line) averaged over the part of the ocean that is free of ice at all times (open ocean).
This is a daily, global Sea Surface Temperature (SST) data set produced on December 20th, 2013 at 1-km resolution (also known as ultra-high resolution) by the JPL ROMS (Regional Ocean Modeling System) group. SST 20131220 blended Global.png
This is a daily, global Sea Surface Temperature (SST) data set produced on December 20th, 2013 at 1-km resolution (also known as ultra-high resolution) by the JPL ROMS (Regional Ocean Modeling System) group.
Weekly average sea surface temperature for the World Ocean during the first week of February 2011, during a period of La Nina. Weeklysst.gif
Weekly average sea surface temperature for the World Ocean during the first week of February 2011, during a period of La Niña.
Sea surface temperature and flows.

Sea surface temperature (SST) is the water temperature close to the ocean's surface. The exact meaning of surface varies according to the measurement method used, but it is between 1 millimetre (0.04 in) and 20 metres (70 ft) below the sea surface. Air masses in the Earth's atmosphere are highly modified by sea surface temperatures within a short distance of the shore. Localized areas of heavy snow can form in bands downwind of warm water bodies within an otherwise cold air mass. Warm sea surface temperatures are known to be a cause of tropical cyclogenesis over the Earth's oceans. Tropical cyclones can also cause a cool wake, due to turbulent mixing of the upper 30 metres (100 ft) of the ocean. SST changes diurnally, like the air above it, but to a lesser degree. There is less SST variation on breezy days than on calm days. In addition, ocean currents such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), can effect SST's on multi-decadal time scales, [1] a major impact results from the global thermohaline circulation, which affects average SST significantly throughout most of the world's oceans.

Temperature physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold

Temperature is a physical quantity expressing hot and cold. It is measured with a thermometer calibrated in one or more temperature scales. The most commonly used scales are the Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, and Kelvin scale. The kelvin is the unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), in which temperature is one of the seven fundamental base quantities. The Kelvin scale is widely used in science and technology.

Ocean A body of water that composes much of a planets hydrosphere

An ocean is a body of water that composes much of a planet's hydrosphere. On Earth, an ocean is one of the major conventional divisions of the World Ocean. These are, in descending order by area, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic), and Arctic Oceans. The word "ocean" is often used interchangeably with "sea" in American English. Strictly speaking, a sea is a body of water partly or fully enclosed by land, though "the sea" refers also to the oceans.

Sea Large body of salt water

The sea, the world ocean or simply the ocean is the connected body of salty water that covers over 70 percent of the Earth's surface. It moderates the Earth's climate and has important roles in the water cycle, carbon cycle, and nitrogen cycle. It has been travelled and explored since ancient times, while the scientific study of the sea—oceanography—dates broadly from the voyages of Captain James Cook to explore the Pacific Ocean between 1768 and 1779. The word "sea" is also used to denote smaller, partly landlocked sections of the ocean.


Ocean temperature is related to ocean heat content, an important topic in the debate over global warming.

Ocean heat content Thermal energy stored in ocean water

Oceanic heat content (OHC) is the heat stored in the ocean. Oceanography and climatology are the science branches which study ocean heat content. Changes in the ocean heat content play an important role in the sea level rise, because of thermal expansion. It is with high confidence that ocean warming accounts for 90% of the energy accumulation from global warming between 1971 and 2010. About one third of that extra heat has been estimated to propagate to depth below 700 meters. Beyond the direct impact of thermal expansion, ocean warming contributes to increased rates of ice melt of glaciers in fjords of Greenland and ice sheets in Antarctica

Global warming rise in the average temperature of the Earths climate system and its related effects

Global warming is a long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate system, an aspect of climate change shown by temperature measurements and by multiple effects of the warming. The term commonly refers to the mainly human-caused observed warming since pre-industrial times and its projected continuation, though there were also much earlier periods of global warming. In the modern context the terms global warming and climate change are commonly used interchangeably, but climate change includes both global warming and its effects, such as changes to precipitation and impacts that differ by region. Many of the observed warming changes since the 1950s are unprecedented in the instrumental temperature record, and in historical and paleoclimate proxy records of climate change over thousands to millions of years.

Coastal SSTs can cause offshore winds to generate upwelling, which can significantly cool or warm nearby landmasses, but shallower waters over a continental shelf are often warmer. Onshore winds can cause a considerable warm-up even in areas where upwelling is fairly constant, such as the northwest coast of South America. Its values are important within numerical weather prediction as the SST influences the atmosphere above, such as in the formation of sea breezes and sea fog. It is also used to calibrate measurements from weather satellites.

Upwelling The replacement by deep water moving upwards of surface water driven offshore by wind

Upwelling is an oceanographic phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of dense, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water. The nutrient-rich upwelled water stimulates the growth and reproduction of primary producers such as phytoplankton. Due to the biomass of phytoplankton and presence of cool water in these regions, upwelling zones can be identified by cool sea surface temperatures (SST) and high concentrations of chlorophyll-a.

Continental shelf A portion of a continent that is submerged under an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea

A continental shelf is a portion of a continent that is submerged under an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea. Much of the shelves were exposed during glacial periods and interglacial periods.

South America A continent in the Western Hemisphere, and mostly in the Southern Hemisphere

South America is a continent in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. It may also be considered a subcontinent of the Americas, which is how it is viewed in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking regions of the Americas. The reference to South America instead of other regions has increased in the last decades due to changing geopolitical dynamics.


Temperature profile of the surface layer of the ocean (a) at night and (b) during the day MODIS and AIRS SST comp fig2.i.jpg
Temperature profile of the surface layer of the ocean (a) at night and (b) during the day

There are a variety of techniques for measuring this parameter that can potentially yield different results because different things are actually being measured. Away from the immediate sea surface, general temperature measurements are accompanied by a reference to the specific depth of measurement. This is because of significant differences encountered between measurements made at different depths, especially during the daytime when low wind speed and high sunshine conditions may lead to the formation of a warm layer at the ocean's surface and strong vertical temperature gradients (a diurnal thermocline). [2] Sea surface temperature measurements are confined to the top portion of the ocean, known as the near-surface layer. [3]

Thermocline A distinct layer in a large body of fluid in which temperature changes more rapidly with depth than it does in the layers above or below

A thermocline is a thin but distinct layer in a large body of fluid in which temperature changes more rapidly with depth than it does in the layers above or below. In the ocean, the thermocline divides the upper mixed layer from the calm deep water below.


SST was one of the first oceanographic variables to be measured. Benjamin Franklin suspended a mercury thermometer from a ship while travelling between the United States and Europe in his survey of the Gulf stream in the late eighteenth century. SST was later measured by dipping a thermometer into a bucket of water that was manually drawn from the sea surface. The first automated technique for determining SST was accomplished by measuring the temperature of water in the intake port of large ships, which was underway by 1963. These observations have a warm bias of around 0.6 °C (1 °F) due to the heat of the engine room. [4] This bias has led to changes in the perception of global warming since 2000. [5] Fixed weather buoys measure the water temperature at a depth of 3 metres (9.8 ft). Measurements of SST have had inconsistencies over the last 130 years due to the way they were taken. In the nineteenth century, measurements were taken in a bucket off of a ship. However, there was a slight variation in temperature because of the differences in buckets. Samples were collected in either a wood or an uninsulated canvas bucket, but the canvas bucket cooled quicker than the wood bucket. The sudden change in temperature between 1940 and 1941 was the result of an undocumented change in procedure. The samples were taken near the engine intake because it was too dangerous to use lights to take measurements over the side of the ship at night. [6] Many different drifting buoys exist around the world that vary in design, and the location of reliable temperature sensors varies. These measurements are beamed to satellites for automated and immediate data distribution. [7] A large network of coastal buoys in U.S. waters is maintained by the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC). [8] Between 1985 and 1994, an extensive array of moored and drifting buoys was deployed across the equatorial Pacific Ocean designed to help monitor and predict the El Niño phenomenon. [9]

Benjamin Franklin American author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, diplomat, and Founding Father

Benjamin Franklin was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions. He founded many civic organizations, including the Library Company, Philadelphia's first fire department and the University of Pennsylvania.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

Weather satellites

2003-2011 SST based on MODIS Aqua data. MODIS sst.png
2003–2011 SST based on MODIS Aqua data.

Weather satellites have been available to determine sea surface temperature information since 1967, with the first global composites created during 1970. [10] Since 1982, [11] satellites have been increasingly utilized to measure SST and have allowed its spatial and temporal variation to be viewed more fully. Satellite measurements of SST are in reasonable agreement with in situ temperature measurements. [12] The satellite measurement is made by sensing the ocean radiation in two or more wavelengths within the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum or other parts of the spectrum which can then be empirically related to SST. [13] These wavelengths are chosen because they are:

Satellite Human-made object put into an orbit around the earth or other planet

In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an artificial object which has been intentionally placed into orbit. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as Earth's Moon.

Spatial variability occurs when a quantity that is measured at different spatial locations exhibits values that differ across the locations. Spatial variability can be assessed using spatial descriptive statistics such as the range. Let us suppose, that the Rev' z(x) is perfectly known at any point x within the field under study. Then the uncertainty about z(x) is reduced to zero, whereas its spatial variability still exists. Uncertainty is closely related to the amount of spatial variability, but it is also strongly dependent upon sampling.4

Time dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future

Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change of quantities in material reality or in the conscious experience. Time is often referred to as a fourth dimension, along with three spatial dimensions.

  1. within the peak of the blackbody radiation expected from the Earth, [14] and
  2. able to transmit adequately well through the atmosphere [15]

The satellite-measured SST provides both a synoptic view of the ocean and a high frequency of repeat views, [16] allowing the examination of basin-wide upper ocean dynamics not possible with ships or buoys. NASA's (National Aeronautic and Space Administration) Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) SST satellites have been providing global SST data since 2000, available with a one-day lag. NOAA's GOES (Geostationary Orbiting Earth Satellites) satellites are geo-stationary above the Western Hemisphere which enables to them to deliver SST data on an hourly basis with only a few hours of lag time.

There are several difficulties with satellite-based absolute SST measurements. First, in infrared remote sensing methodology the radiation emanates from the top "skin" of the ocean, approximately the top 0.01 mm or less, which may not represent the bulk temperature of the upper meter of ocean due primarily to effects of solar surface heating during the daytime, reflected radiation, as well as sensible heat loss and surface evaporation. All these factors make it somewhat difficult to compare satellite data to measurements from buoys or shipboard methods, complicating ground truth efforts. [17] Secondly, the satellite cannot look through clouds, creating a cool bias in satellite-derived SSTs within cloudy areas. [2] However, passive microwave techniques can accurately measure SST and penetrate cloud cover. [13] Within atmospheric sounder channels on weather satellites, which peak just above the ocean's surface, knowledge of the sea surface temperature is important to their calibration. [2]

Local variation

The SST has a diurnal range, just like the Earth's atmosphere above, though to a lesser degree due to its greater specific heat. [18] On calm days, the temperature can vary by 6 °C (10 °F). [2] The temperature of the ocean at depth lags the Earth's atmosphere temperature by 15 days per 10 metres (33 ft), which means for locations like the Aral Sea, temperatures near its bottom reach a maximum in December and a minimum in May and June. [19] Near the coastline, offshore winds move the warm waters near the surface offshore, and replace them with cooler water from below in the process known as Ekman transport. This pattern increases nutrients for marine life in the region. [20] Offshore river deltas, freshwater flows over the top of the denser seawater, which allows it to heat faster due to limited vertical mixing. [21] Remotely sensed SST can be used to detect the surface temperature signature due to tropical cyclones. In general, an SST cooling is observed after the passing of a hurricane primarily as the result of mixed layer deepening and surface heat losses. [22] In the wake of several day long Saharan dust outbreaks across the adjacent northern Atlantic Ocean, sea surface temperatures are reduced 0.2 C to 0.4 C (0.3 to 0.7 F). [23] Other sources of short-term SST fluctuation include extratropical cyclones, rapid influxes of glacial fresh water [24] and concentrated phytoplankton blooms [25] due to seasonal cycles or agricultural run-off. [26]

Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation

The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) is important for how external forcings are linked with North Atlantic SSTs. [27]

Regional variation

The 1997 El Nino observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. The white areas off the tropical coasts of South and North America indicate the pool of warm water. 1997 El Nino TOPEX.jpg
The 1997 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. The white areas off the tropical coasts of South and North America indicate the pool of warm water.

El Niño is defined by prolonged differences in Pacific Ocean surface temperatures when compared with the average value. The accepted definition is a warming or cooling of at least 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) averaged over the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean. Typically, this anomaly happens at irregular intervals of 2–7 years and lasts nine months to two years. [29] The average period length is 5 years. When this warming or cooling occurs for only seven to nine months, it is classified as El Niño/La Niña "conditions"; when it occurs for more than that period, it is classified as El Niño/La Niña "episodes". [30]

The sign of an El Niño in the sea surface temperature pattern is when warm water spreads from the west Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the east Pacific. It takes the rain with it, causing extensive drought in the western Pacific and rainfall in the normally dry eastern Pacific. El Niño's warm rush of nutrient-poor tropical water, heated by its eastward passage in the Equatorial Current, replaces the cold, nutrient-rich surface water of the Humboldt Current. When El Niño conditions last for many months, extensive ocean warming and the reduction in Easterly Trade winds limits upwelling of cold nutrient-rich deep water and its economic impact to local fishing for an international market can be serious. [31]

Importance to the Earth's atmosphere

Sea-effect snow bands near the Korean Peninsula Snow Clouds in Korea.jpg
Sea-effect snow bands near the Korean Peninsula

Sea surface temperature affects the behavior of the Earth's atmosphere above, so their initialization into atmospheric models is important. While sea surface temperature is important for tropical cyclogenesis, it is also important in determining the formation of sea fog and sea breezes. [2] Heat from underlying warmer waters can significantly modify an air mass over distances as short as 35 kilometres (22 mi) to 40 kilometres (25 mi). [32] For example, southwest of Northern Hemisphere extratropical cyclones, curved cyclonic flow bringing cold air across relatively warm water bodies can lead to narrow lake-effect snow (or sea effect) bands. Those bands bring strong localized precipitation, often in the form of snow, since large water bodies such as lakes efficiently store heat that results in significant temperature differences—larger than 13 °C (23 °F)—between the water surface and the air above. [33] Because of this temperature difference, warmth and moisture are transported upward, condensing into vertically oriented clouds which produce snow showers. The temperature decrease with height and cloud depth are directly affected by both the water temperature and the large-scale environment. The stronger the temperature decrease with height, the taller the clouds get, and the greater the precipitation rate becomes. [34]

Tropical cyclones

Seasonal peaks of tropical cyclone activity worldwide WorldwideTCpeaks.gif
Seasonal peaks of tropical cyclone activity worldwide
Average equatorial Pacific temperatures Mean sst equatorial pacific.gif
Average equatorial Pacific temperatures

Ocean temperature of at least 26.5°C (79.7°F) spanning through at minimum a 50-metre depth is one of the precursors needed to maintain a tropical cyclone (a type of mesocyclone). [35] [36] These warm waters are needed to maintain the warm core that fuels tropical systems. This value is well above 16.1 °C (60.9 °F), the long term global average surface temperature of the oceans. [37] However, this requirement can be considered only a general baseline because it assumes that the ambient atmospheric environment surrounding an area of disturbed weather presents average conditions. Tropical cyclones have intensified when SSTs were slightly below this standard temperature.

Tropical cyclones are known to form even when normal conditions are not met. For example, cooler air temperatures at a higher altitude (e.g., at the 500  hPa level, or 5.9 km) can lead to tropical cyclogenesis at lower water temperatures, as a certain lapse rate is required to force the atmosphere to be unstable enough for convection. In a moist atmosphere, this lapse rate is 6.5 °C/km, while in an atmosphere with less than 100% relative humidity, the required lapse rate is 9.8 °C/km. [38]

At the 500 hPa level, the air temperature averages −7 °C (18 °F) within the tropics, but air in the tropics is normally dry at this height, giving the air room to wet-bulb, or cool as it moistens, to a more favorable temperature that can then support convection. A wetbulb temperature at 500 hPa in a tropical atmosphere of −13.2 °C (8.2 °F) is required to initiate convection if the water temperature is 26.5 °C (79.7 °F), and this temperature requirement increases or decreases proportionally by 1 °C in the sea surface temperature for each 1 °C change at 500 hpa. Inside a cold cyclone, 500 hPa temperatures can fall as low as −30 °C (−22 °F), which can initiate convection even in the driest atmospheres. This also explains why moisture in the mid-levels of the troposphere, roughly at the 500 hPa level, is normally a requirement for development. However, when dry air is found at the same height, temperatures at 500 hPa need to be even colder as dry atmospheres require a greater lapse rate for instability than moist atmospheres. [39] [40] At heights near the tropopause, the 30-year average temperature (as measured in the period encompassing 1961 through 1990) was −77 °C (−132 °F). [41] A recent example of a tropical cyclone that maintained itself over cooler waters was Epsilon of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. [42]

See also

Related Research Articles

El Niño Warm phase of a cyclic climatic phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean

El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, including the area off the Pacific coast of South America. The ENSO is the cycle of warm and cold sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. El Niño phases are known to be close to four years, however, records demonstrate the cycles have lasted between two and seven years. During the development of El Niño, rainfalls develop between September–November. The cool phase of ENSO is la Niña with SST in the eastern Pacific below average and air pressure high in the eastern and low in western Pacific. The ENSO cycle, both el Niño and la Niña, causes global changes in temperature and rainfall.

Satellite temperature measurements

Satellite temperature measurements are inferences of the temperature of the atmosphere at various altitudes as well as sea and land surface temperatures obtained from radiometric measurements by satellites. These measurements can be used to locate weather fronts, monitor the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, determine the strength of tropical cyclones, study urban heat islands and monitor the global climate. Wildfires, volcanos, and industrial hot spots can also be found via thermal imaging from weather satellites.

Climatology The scientific study of climate, defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time

Climatology or climate science is the scientific study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time. This modern field of study is regarded as a branch of the atmospheric sciences and a subfield of physical geography, which is one of the Earth sciences. Climatology now includes aspects of oceanography and biogeochemistry. Basic knowledge of climate can be used within shorter term weather forecasting using analog techniques such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO), the Northern Annular Mode (NAM) which is also known as the Arctic oscillation (AO), the Northern Pacific (NP) Index, the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). Climate models are used for a variety of purposes from study of the dynamics of the weather and climate system to projections of future climate. Weather is known as the condition of the atmosphere over a period of time, while climate has to do with the atmospheric condition over an extended to indefinite period of time.

Instrumental temperature record

The instrumental temperature record provides the temperature of Earth's climate system from the historical network of in situ measurements of surface air temperatures and ocean surface temperatures. Data are collected at thousands of meteorological stations, buoys and ships around the globe. The longest-running temperature record is the Central England temperature data series, which starts in 1659. The longest-running quasi-global record starts in 1850. In recent decades more extensive sampling of ocean temperatures at various depths have begun allowing estimates of ocean heat content but these do not form part of the global surface temperature datasets.

El Niño–Southern Oscillation Irregularly periodic variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an irregularly periodic variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, affecting the climate of much of the tropics and subtropics. The warming phase of the sea temperature is known as El Niño and the cooling phase as La Niña. The Southern Oscillation is the accompanying atmospheric component, coupled with the sea temperature change: El Niño is accompanied by high air surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific and La Niña with low air surface pressure there. The two periods last several months each and their effects vary in intensity.

Physical oceanography The study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean

Physical oceanography is the study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, especially the motions and physical properties of ocean waters.

Thermohaline circulation A part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes

Thermohaline circulation (THC) is a part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. The adjective thermohaline derives from thermo- referring to temperature and -haline referring to salt content, factors which together determine the density of sea water. Wind-driven surface currents travel polewards from the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, cooling en route, and eventually sinking at high latitudes. This dense water then flows into the ocean basins. While the bulk of it upwells in the Southern Ocean, the oldest waters upwell in the North Pacific. Extensive mixing therefore takes place between the ocean basins, reducing differences between them and making the Earth's oceans a global system. On their journey, the water masses transport both energy and mass of substances around the globe. As such, the state of the circulation has a large impact on the climate of the Earth.

The Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere program (TOGA) was a ten-year study (1985-1994) of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) aimed specifically at the prediction of climate phenomena on time scales of months to years.

Pacific decadal oscillation A robust, recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered over the mid-latitude Pacific basin

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a robust, recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered over the mid-latitude Pacific basin. The PDO is detected as warm or cool surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, north of 20°N. Over the past century, the amplitude of this climate pattern has varied irregularly at interannual-to-interdecadal time scales. There is evidence of reversals in the prevailing polarity of the oscillation occurring around 1925, 1947, and 1977; the last two reversals corresponded with dramatic shifts in salmon production regimes in the North Pacific Ocean. This climate pattern also affects coastal sea and continental surface air temperatures from Alaska to California.

Loop Current A warm ocean current that flows northward between Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico, loops east and south and exits to the east through the Florida Straits to join the Gulf Stream

A parent to the Florida Current, the Loop Current is a warm ocean current that flows northward between Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula, moves north into the Gulf of Mexico, loops east and south before exiting to the east through the Florida Straits and joining the Gulf Stream. The Loop Current is an extension of the western boundary current of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre. Serving as the dominant circulation feature in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Loop Currents transports between 23 and 27 sverdrups and reaches maximum flow speeds of from 1.5 to 1.8 meters/second.

Mixed layer A layer in which active turbulence has homogenized some range of depths.

The oceanic or limnological mixed layer is a layer in which active turbulence has homogenized some range of depths. The surface mixed layer is a layer where this turbulence is generated by winds, surface heat fluxes, or processes such as evaporation or sea ice formation which result in an increase in salinity. The atmospheric mixed layer is a zone having nearly constant potential temperature and specific humidity with height. The depth of the atmospheric mixed layer is known as the mixing height. Turbulence typically plays a role in the formation of fluid mixed layers.

Tropical cyclogenesis

Tropical cyclogenesis is the development and strengthening of a tropical cyclone in the atmosphere. The mechanisms through which tropical cyclogenesis occurs are distinctly different from those through which temperate cyclogenesis occurs. Tropical cyclogenesis involves the development of a warm-core cyclone, due to significant convection in a favorable atmospheric environment.

Weather buoy Floating nstrument package which collects weather and ocean data on the worlds oceans

Weather buoys are instruments which collect weather and ocean data within the world's oceans, as well as aid during emergency response to chemical spills, legal proceedings, and engineering design. Moored buoys have been in use since 1951, while drifting buoys have been used since 1979. Moored buoys are connected with the ocean bottom using either chains, nylon, or buoyant polypropylene. With the decline of the weather ship, they have taken a more primary role in measuring conditions over the open seas since the 1970s. During the 1980s and 1990s, a network of buoys in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean helped study the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Moored weather buoys range from 1.5–12 metres (5–40 ft) in diameter, while drifting buoys are smaller, with diameters of 30–40 centimetres (12–16 in). Drifting buoys are the dominant form of weather buoy in sheer number, with 1250 located worldwide. Wind data from buoys has smaller error than that from ships. There are differences in the values of sea surface temperature measurements between the two platforms as well, relating to the depth of the measurement and whether or not the water is heated by the ship which measures the quantity.

Tropical cyclone Rapidly rotating storm system

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names, including hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, and a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean; while in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean, comparable storms are referred to simply as "tropical cyclones" or "severe cyclonic storms".

West Spitsbergen Current A warm, salty current that runs poleward just west of Spitsbergen

The West Spitsbergen Current (WSC) is a warm, salty current that runs poleward just west of Spitsbergen,, in the Arctic Ocean. The WSC branches off the Norwegian Atlantic Current in the Norwegian Sea. The WSC is of importance because it drives warm and salty Atlantic Water into the interior Arctic. The warm and salty WSC flows north through the eastern side of Fram Strait, while the East Greenland Current (EGC) flows south through the western side of Fram Strait. The EGC is characterized by being very cold and low in salinity, but above all else it is a major exporter of Arctic sea ice. Thus, the EGC combined with the warm WSC makes the Fram Strait the northernmost ocean area having ice-free conditions throughout the year in all of the global ocean.

Tropical instability waves A phenomenon in which the interface between areas of warm and cold sea surface temperatures near the equator form a regular pattern of westward-propagating waves

Tropical instability waves, often abbreviated TIW, are a phenomenon in which the interface between areas of warm and cold sea surface temperatures near the equator form a regular pattern of westward-propagating waves. These waves are often present in the Atlantic Ocean, extending westward from the African coast, but are more easily recognizable in the Pacific, extending westward from South America. They have an average period of about 30 days and wavelength of about 1100 kilometers, and are largest in amplitude between June and November. They are also largest during La Niña conditions, and may disappear when strong El Niño conditions are present.

Tropical cyclones and climate change

Tropical cyclones and climate change concerns how tropical cyclones have changed, and are expected to further change, under global warming. The topic receives considerable attention from climate scientists who study the connections between storms and climate, and notably since 2005 makes news during active storm seasons.

The Atlantic Equatorial Mode or Atlantic Niño is a quasiperiodic interannual climate pattern of the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. It is the dominant mode of year-to-year variability that results in alternating warming and cooling episodes of sea surface temperatures accompanied by changes in atmospheric circulation. The term Atlantic Niño comes from its close similarity with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that dominates the tropical Pacific basin. The Atlantic Niño is not the same as the Atlantic Meridional (Interhemispheric) Mode that consists of a north-south dipole and operates more on decadal timescales. The equatorial warming and cooling events associated with the Atlantic Niño are known to be strongly related to atmospheric climate anomalies, especially in African countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea. Therefore, understanding of the Atlantic Niño has important implications for climate prediction in those regions. Although the Atlantic Niño is an intrinsic mode to the equatorial Atlantic, there may be a tenuous causal relationship between ENSO and the Atlantic Niño in some circumstances.

The Tropical Atlantic SST Dipole refers to a cross-equatorial sea surface temperature (SST) pattern that appears dominant on decadal timescales. It has a period of about 12 years, with the SST anomalies manifesting their most pronounced features around 10–15 degrees of latitude off of the Equator. The term Tropical Atlantic SST dipole is only one of the characteristic names used to refer to this mode of variability; other definitions include the interhemispheric SST gradient or the Meridional Atlantic mode. This decadal-scale SST pattern constitutes one of the key features of SST variability in the Tropical Atlantic Ocean, with another one being the Atlantic Equatorial Mode or Atlantic Niño, which occurs in the zonal (east-west) direction at interannual timescales, with sea surface temperature and heat content anomalies being observed in the eastern equatorial basin. Its importance in climate dynamics and decadal-scale climate prediction is evident when investigating its impact on adjacent continental regions such as the Northeast Brazil, the Sahel as well as its influence on North Atlantic cyclogenesis.

1997–98 El Niño event

The 1997–98 El Niño was regarded as one of the most powerful El Niño–Southern Oscillation events in recorded history, resulting in widespread droughts, flooding and other natural disasters across the globe. It caused an estimated 16% of the world's reef systems to die, and temporarily warmed air temperature by 1.5 °C, compared to the usual increase of 0.25 °C associated with El Niño events.


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