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Ocean heat content variability and change in an ensemble of ocean reanalyses

Palmer, M. D., Roberts, C. D., Balmaseda, M., Chang, Y.-S., Chepurin, G., Ferry, N., Fujii, Y., Good, S. A., Guinehut, S., Haines, K., Hernandez, F., Kohl, A., Lee, T., Martin, M. J., Masina, S., Masuda, S., Peterson, K. A., Storto, A., Toyoda, T., Valdivieso, M. , Vernieres, G., Wang, O. and Xue, Y. (2017) Ocean heat content variability and change in an ensemble of ocean reanalyses. Climate Dynamics, 49 (3). pp. 909-930. ISSN 0930-7575

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s00382-015-2801-0


Accurate knowledge of the location and magnitude of ocean heat content (OHC) variability and change is essential for understanding the processes that govern decadal variations in surface temperature, quantifying changes in the planetary energy budget, and developing constraints on the transient climate response to external forcings. We present an overview of the temporal and spatial characteristics of OHC variability and change as represented by an ensemble of dynamical and statistical ocean reanalyses (ORAs). Spatial maps of the 0–300 m layer show large regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans where the interannual variability of the ensemble mean exceeds ensemble spread, indicating that OHC variations are well-constrained by the available observations over the period 1993–2009. At deeper levels, the ORAs are less well-constrained by observations with the largest differences across the ensemble mostly associated with areas of high eddy kinetic energy, such as the Southern Ocean and boundary current regions. Spatial patterns of OHC change for the period 1997–2009 show good agreement in the upper 300 m and are characterized by a strong dipole pattern in the Pacific Ocean. There is less agreement in the patterns of change at deeper levels, potentially linked to differences in the representation of ocean dynamics, such as water mass formation processes. However, the Atlantic and Southern Oceans are regions in which many ORAs show widespread warming below 700 m over the period 1997–2009. Annual time series of global and hemispheric OHC change for 0–700 m show the largest spread for the data sparse Southern Hemisphere and a number of ORAs seem to be subject to large initialization ‘shock’ over the first few years. In agreement with previous studies, a number of ORAs exhibit enhanced ocean heat uptake below 300 and 700 m during the mid-1990s or early 2000s. The ORA ensemble mean (±1 standard deviation) of rolling 5-year trends in full-depth OHC shows a relatively steady heat uptake of approximately 0.9 ± 0.8 W m−2 (expressed relative to Earth’s surface area) between 1995 and 2002, which reduces to about 0.2 ± 0.6 W m−2 between 2004 and 2006, in qualitative agreement with recent analysis of Earth’s energy imbalance. There is a marked reduction in the ensemble spread of OHC trends below 300 m as the Argo profiling float observations become available in the early 2000s. In general, we suggest that ORAs should be treated with caution when employed to understand past ocean warming trends—especially when considering the deeper ocean where there is little in the way of observational constraints. The current work emphasizes the need to better observe the deep ocean, both for providing observational constraints for future ocean state estimation efforts and also to develop improved models and data assimilation methods.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:52359


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