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WIREs Clim Change
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Effects of instrumentation changes on sea surface temperature measured in situ

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Measurements of sea surface temperature (SST) are an important climate record, complementing terrestrial air temperature observations, records of marine air temperature, ocean subsurface temperature, and ocean heat content. SST has been measured since the 18th century, although observations are sparse in the early period. Historically, marine observing systems relied on observations made by seafarers and necessary information on measurement methods is often not available. There are many historical descriptions of observing practice and instrumentation, some including quantification of biases between different methods. This documentation has been used, with the available observations, to develop models for the expected biases, which vary according to how the measurements were made, over time and with the environmental conditions. Adjustments have been developed for these biases and some gridded SST datasets adjust for these differences and provide uncertainty estimates, including uncertainties in the bias adjustments. The modern in situ SST‐observing system continues to evolve and now includes many observations from moored and drifting buoys, which must be characterized relative to earlier observations to provide a consistent record of multi‐decadal changes in SST. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Figure 1.

Left to right: wooden bucket, 1891 (courtesy of Scottish Maritime Museum and David Parker); Crawford bucket as described in Ref 23; German metal and leather bucket; and UK Met Office canvas bucket (courtesy of David Parker, Crown Copyright).

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Figure 2.

Composition of ICOADSv2.5.1 (a) Annual number of sea surface temperature observations per year by platform type. (b) As (a) but expressed as a fraction of total number of observations. For the period centered on around 1900, most of the ‘unknown or other’ observations are of unknown source, and after 1962 almost all have come from oceanographic sources.

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Figure 3.

(a) Number of sea surface temperature observations from ICOADSv2.034 with measurement methods following Ref 35, excluding data from drifters and buoys. (b) Metadata assignments for period 1942–1986: light gray = bucket, dark gray = engine room intake or hull sensor, white = other or unknown. No pattern = ICOADS metadata, horizontal lines = metadata from Pub. 47, squares = assignment from country preference.

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Figure 4.

SST corrections (°C). (a) Global average of bias adjustments from Ref 11 as implemented by Ref 5. (b) As (a) but averaged over the period 1910–1930. (c) Global average of bias adjustments from Ref 57. (d) As (c) but averaged over the period 1910–1930.

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