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Concept: Oceanography


Sea surface temperature (SST) records are subject to potential biases due to changing instrumentation and measurement practices. Significant differences exist between commonly used composite SST reconstructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Extended Reconstruction Sea Surface Temperature (ERSST), the Hadley Centre SST data set (HadSST3), and the Japanese Meteorological Agency’s Centennial Observation-Based Estimates of SSTs (COBE-SST) from 2003 to the present. The update from ERSST version 3b to version 4 resulted in an increase in the operational SST trend estimate during the last 19 years from 0.07° to 0.12°C per decade, indicating a higher rate of warming in recent years. We show that ERSST version 4 trends generally agree with largely independent, near-global, and instrumentally homogeneous SST measurements from floating buoys, Argo floats, and radiometer-based satellite measurements that have been developed and deployed during the past two decades. We find a large cooling bias in ERSST version 3b and smaller but significant cooling biases in HadSST3 and COBE-SST from 2003 to the present, with respect to most series examined. These results suggest that reported rates of SST warming in recent years have been underestimated in these three data sets.

Concepts: Present, Time, Measurement, Oceanography, Data set, Gas, Sea surface temperature, Decade


Anthropogenic carbon emissions lock in long-term sea-level rise that greatly exceeds projections for this century, posing profound challenges for coastal development and cultural legacies. Analysis based on previously published relationships linking emissions to warming and warming to rise indicates that unabated carbon emissions up to the year 2100 would commit an eventual global sea-level rise of 4.3-9.9 m. Based on detailed topographic and population data, local high tide lines, and regional long-term sea-level commitment for different carbon emissions and ice sheet stability scenarios, we compute the current population living on endangered land at municipal, state, and national levels within the United States. For unabated climate change, we find that land that is home to more than 20 million people is implicated and is widely distributed among different states and coasts. The total area includes 1,185-1,825 municipalities where land that is home to more than half of the current population would be affected, among them at least 21 cities exceeding 100,000 residents. Under aggressive carbon cuts, more than half of these municipalities would avoid this commitment if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet remains stable. Similarly, more than half of the US population-weighted area under threat could be spared. We provide lists of implicated cities and state populations for different emissions scenarios and with and without a certain collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Although past anthropogenic emissions already have caused sea-level commitment that will force coastal cities to adapt, future emissions will determine which areas we can continue to occupy or may have to abandon.

Concepts: Sea level, Ice sheet, Oceanography, Climate change, Antarctica, Global warming, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Antarctic ice sheet


There is a general consensus among Earth scientists that melting of land ice greatly contributes to sea-level rise (SLR) and that future warming will exacerbate the risks posed to human civilization. As land ice is lost to the oceans, both the Earth’s gravitational and rotational potentials are perturbed, resulting in strong spatial patterns in SLR, termed sea-level fingerprints. We lack robust forecasting models for future ice changes, which diminishes our ability to use these fingerprints to accurately predict local sea-level (LSL) changes. We exploit an advanced mathematical property of adjoint systems and determine the exact gradient of sea-level fingerprints with respect to local variations in the ice thickness of all of the world’s ice drainage systems. By exhaustively mapping these fingerprint gradients, we form a new diagnosis tool, henceforth referred to as gradient fingerprint mapping (GFM), that readily allows for improved assessments of future coastal inundation or emergence. We demonstrate that for Antarctica and Greenland, changes in the predictions of inundation at major port cities depend on the location of the drainage system. For example, in London, GFM shows LSL that is significantly affected by changes on the western part of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS), whereas in New York, LSL change predictions are greatly sensitive to changes in the northeastern portions of the GrIS. We apply GFM to 293 major port cities to allow coastal planners to readily calculate LSL change as more reliable predictions of cryospheric mass changes become available.

Concepts: Water, Gradient, Ice sheet, Greenland ice sheet, Oceanography, Prediction, Atlantic Ocean, Forecasting


The flood hazard in New York City depends on both storm surges and rising sea levels. We combine modeled storm surges with probabilistic sea-level rise projections to assess future coastal inundation in New York City from the preindustrial era through 2300 CE. The storm surges are derived from large sets of synthetic tropical cyclones, downscaled from RCP8.5 simulations from three CMIP5 models. The sea-level rise projections account for potential partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet in assessing future coastal inundation. CMIP5 models indicate that there will be minimal change in storm-surge heights from 2010 to 2100 or 2300, because the predicted strengthening of the strongest storms will be compensated by storm tracks moving offshore at the latitude of New York City. However, projected sea-level rise causes overall flood heights associated with tropical cyclones in New York City in coming centuries to increase greatly compared with preindustrial or modern flood heights. For the various sea-level rise scenarios we consider, the 1-in-500-y flood event increases from 3.4 m above mean tidal level during 1970-2005 to 4.0-5.1 m above mean tidal level by 2080-2100 and ranges from 5.0-15.4 m above mean tidal level by 2280-2300. Further, we find that the return period of a 2.25-m flood has decreased from ∼500 y before 1800 to ∼25 y during 1970-2005 and further decreases to ∼5 y by 2030-2045 in 95% of our simulations. The 2.25-m flood height is permanently exceeded by 2280-2300 for scenarios that include Antarctica’s potential partial collapse.

Concepts: Oceanography, Storm, New York City, Tropical cyclone, Antarctica, Flood, Storm surge, Weather hazards


Ongoing greenhouse gas emissions can modify climate processes and induce shifts in ocean temperature, pH, oxygen concentration, and productivity, which in turn could alter biological and social systems. Here, we provide a synoptic global assessment of the simultaneous changes in future ocean biogeochemical variables over marine biota and their broader implications for people. We analyzed modern Earth System Models forced by greenhouse gas concentration pathways until 2100 and showed that the entire world’s ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity. In contrast, only a small fraction of the world’s ocean surface, mostly in polar regions, will experience increased oxygenation and productivity, while almost nowhere will there be ocean cooling or pH elevation. We compiled the global distribution of 32 marine habitats and biodiversity hotspots and found that they would all experience simultaneous exposure to changes in multiple biogeochemical variables. This superposition highlights the high risk for synergistic ecosystem responses, the suite of physiological adaptations needed to cope with future climate change, and the potential for reorganization of global biodiversity patterns. If co-occurring biogeochemical changes influence the delivery of ocean goods and services, then they could also have a considerable effect on human welfare. Approximately 470 to 870 million of the poorest people in the world rely heavily on the ocean for food, jobs, and revenues and live in countries that will be most affected by simultaneous changes in ocean biogeochemistry. These results highlight the high risk of degradation of marine ecosystems and associated human hardship expected in a future following current trends in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Oceanography, Ecosystem, Climate change, Natural gas, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


The past was a world of giants, with abundant whales in the sea and large animals roaming the land. However, that world came to an end following massive late-Quaternary megafauna extinctions on land and widespread population reductions in great whale populations over the past few centuries. These losses are likely to have had important consequences for broad-scale nutrient cycling, because recent literature suggests that large animals disproportionately drive nutrient movement. We estimate that the capacity of animals to move nutrients away from concentration patches has decreased to about 8% of the preextinction value on land and about 5% of historic values in oceans. For phosphorus (P), a key nutrient, upward movement in the ocean by marine mammals is about 23% of its former capacity (previously about 340 million kg of P per year). Movements by seabirds and anadromous fish provide important transfer of nutrients from the sea to land, totalling ∼150 million kg of P per year globally in the past, a transfer that has declined to less than 4% of this value as a result of the decimation of seabird colonies and anadromous fish populations. We propose that in the past, marine mammals, seabirds, anadromous fish, and terrestrial animals likely formed an interlinked system recycling nutrients from the ocean depths to the continental interiors, with marine mammals moving nutrients from the deep sea to surface waters, seabirds and anadromous fish moving nutrients from the ocean to land, and large animals moving nutrients away from hotspots into the continental interior.

Concepts: Plant, Fish, Ecology, Oceanography, Ocean, Mariana Trench, Whale, Forage fish


A Marine Climate Impacts Workshop was held from 29 April to 3 May 2012 at the US National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara. This workshop was the culmination of a series of six meetings over the past three years, which had brought together 25 experts in climate change ecology, analysis of large datasets, palaeontology, marine ecology and physical oceanography. Aims of these workshops were to produce a global synthesis of climate impacts on marine biota, to identify sensitive habitats and taxa, to inform the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, and to strengthen research into ecological impacts of climate change.

Concepts: Biology, Life, Oceanography, Greek loanwords, Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Outline of biology


Coastal flood hazard varies in response to changes in storm surge climatology and the sea level. Here we combine probabilistic projections of the sea level and storm surge climatology to estimate the temporal evolution of flood hazard. We find that New York City’s flood hazard has increased significantly over the past two centuries and is very likely to increase more sharply over the 21st century. Due to the effect of sea level rise, the return period of Hurricane Sandy’s flood height decreased by a factor of ∼3× from year 1800 to 2000 and is estimated to decrease by a further ∼4.4× from 2000 to 2100 under a moderate-emissions pathway. When potential storm climatology change over the 21st century is also accounted for, Sandy’s return period is estimated to decrease by ∼3× to 17× from 2000 to 2100.

Concepts: Statistics, Oceanography, Storm, New York City, Tropical cyclone, 21st century, Flood, Storm surge


Early juvenile growth is a good indicator of growth later in life in many species because larger than average juveniles tend to have a competitive advantage. However, for migratory species the relationship between juvenile and adult growth remains obscure. We used scale analysis to reconstruct growth trajectories of migratory sea trout (Salmo trutta) from six neighbouring populations, and compared the size individuals attained in freshwater (before migration) with their subsequent growth at sea (after migration). We also calculated the coefficient of variation (CV) to examine how much body size varied across populations and life stages. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that the CV on body size would differ between freshwater and marine environment, perhaps reflecting different trade-offs during ontogeny. Neighbouring sea trout populations differed significantly in time spent at sea and in age-adjusted size of returning adults, but not on size of seaward migration, which was surprisingly uniform and may be indicative of strong selection pressures. The CV on body size decreased significantly over time and was highest during the first 8 months of life (when juvenile mortality is highest) and lowest during the marine phase. Size attained in freshwater was negatively related to growth during the first marine growing season, suggesting the existence of compensatory growth, whereby individuals that grow poorly in freshwater are able to catch up later at sea. Analysis of 61 datasets indicates that negative or no associations between pre- and post-migratory growth are common amongst migratory salmonids. We suggest that despite a widespread selective advantage of large body size in freshwater, freshwater growth is a poor predictor of final body size amongst migratory fish because selection may favour growth heterochrony during transitions to a novel environment, and marine compensatory growth may negate any initial size advantage acquired in freshwater.

Concepts: Natural selection, Fish, Oceanography, Ocean, Salmo, Rainbow trout, Brown trout, Brook trout


Global mean sea level rise estimated from satellite altimetry provides a strong constraint on climate variability and change and is expected to accelerate as the rates of both ocean warming and cryospheric mass loss increase over time. In stark contrast to this expectation however, current altimeter products show the rate of sea level rise to have decreased from the first to second decades of the altimeter era. Here, a combined analysis of altimeter data and specially designed climate model simulations shows the 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo to likely have masked the acceleration that would have otherwise occurred. This masking arose largely from a recovery in ocean heat content through the mid to late 1990 s subsequent to major heat content reductions in the years following the eruption. A consequence of this finding is that barring another major volcanic eruption, a detectable acceleration is likely to emerge from the noise of internal climate variability in the coming decade.

Concepts: Sea level, Oceanography, Climate change, Atmospheric pressure, Acceleration, Ocean, Altimeter, TOPEX/Poseidon