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Estimating oceanic heat content change using isotherms

Palmer, M. and Haines, K. (2009) Estimating oceanic heat content change using isotherms. Journal of Climate, 22 (19). pp. 4953-4969. ISSN 1520-0442

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1175/2009JCLI2823.1


This paper presents a new analysis of ocean heat content changes over the last 50 yr using isotherms by calculating the mean temperature above the 148C isotherm and the depth of the 148C isotherm as separate variables. A new quantity called the ‘‘relative heat content’’ (‘‘RHC’’) is introduced, which represents the minimum local heat content change over time, relative to a fixed isotherm. It is shown how mean temperature and isotherm depth changes make separable and additive contributions to changes in RHC. Maps of RHC change between 1970 and 2000 show similar spatial patterns to a traditional fixed-depth ocean heat content change to 220 m. However, the separate contributions to RHC suggest a more spatially uniform contribution from warming above the isotherm, while isotherm depth changes show wind-driven signals, of which some are identifiable as being related to the North Atlantic Oscillation. The time series show that the warming contribution to RHC dominates the global trend, while the depth contribution only dominates on the basin scale in the North Atlantic. The RHC shows minima associated with the major volcanic eruptions (particularly in the Indian Ocean), and these are entirely contributed by mean temperature changes rather than isotherm depth changes. The depth change contributions to RHC are strongly affected by the recently reported XBT fall-rate bias, whereas the mean temperature contributions are not. Therefore, only the isotherm depth change contributions toRHCwill need to be reassessed as fall-rate-corrected data become available.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Environmental Systems Science Centre
ID Code:7259
Publisher:American Meteorological Society

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