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Concept: Sea surface temperature


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


Climate change and fisheries are transforming the oceans, but we lack a complete understanding of their ecological impact [1-3]. Environmental degradation can cause maladaptive habitat selection, inducing ecological traps with profound consequences for biodiversity [4-6]. However, whether ecological traps operate in marine systems is unclear [7]. Large marine vertebrates may be vulnerable to ecological traps [6], but their broad-scale movements and complex life histories obscure the population-level consequences of habitat selection [8, 9]. We satellite tracked postnatal dispersal in African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) from eight sites across their breeding range to test whether they have become ecologically trapped in the degraded Benguela ecosystem. Bayesian state-space and habitat models show that penguins traversed thousands of square kilometers to areas of low sea surface temperatures (14.5°C-17.5°C) and high chlorophyll-a (∼11 mg m(-3)). These were once reliable cues for prey-rich waters, but climate change and industrial fishing have depleted forage fish stocks in this system [10, 11]. Juvenile penguin survival is low in populations selecting degraded areas, and Bayesian projection models suggest that breeding numbers are ∼50% lower than if non-impacted habitats were used, revealing the extent and effect of a marine ecological trap for the first time. These cascading impacts of localized forage fish depletion-unobserved in studies on adults-were only elucidated via broad-scale movement and demographic data on juveniles. Our results support suspending fishing when prey biomass drops below critical thresholds [12, 13] and suggest that mitigation of marine ecological traps will require matching conservation action to the scale of ecological processes [14].

Concepts: Biodiversity, Demography, Fish, Ecology, Climate, Ecosystem, Ocean, Sea surface temperature


The contribution of climate change to shifts in a species' geographic distribution is a critical and often unresolved ecological question. Climate change in Antarctica is asymmetric, with cooling in parts of the continent and warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is a circumpolar meso-predator exposed to the full range of Antarctic climate and is undergoing dramatic population shifts coincident with climate change. We used true presence-absence data on Adélie penguin breeding colonies to estimate past and future changes in habitat suitability during the chick-rearing period based on historic satellite observations and future climate model projections. During the contemporary period, declining Adélie penguin populations experienced more years with warm sea surface temperature compared to populations that are increasing. Based on this relationship, we project that one-third of current Adélie penguin colonies, representing ~20% of their current population, may be in decline by 2060. However, climate model projections suggest refugia may exist in continental Antarctica beyond 2099, buffering species-wide declines. Climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be highly site specific based on regional climate trends, and a southward contraction in the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century.

Concepts: Climate, Climate change, Penguin, Antarctica, Sea surface temperature, Southern Ocean, Pygoscelis, Antarctic Peninsula


During 2010-11, a La Niña condition prevailed in the tropical Pacific. An intermediate coupled model (ICM) is used to demonstrate a real-time forecast of sea surface temperature (SST) evolution during the event. One of the ICM’s unique features is an empirical parameterization of the temperature of subsurface water entrained into the mixed layer (T(e)). This model provided a good prediction, particularly of the “double dip” evolution of SST in 2011 that followed the La Niña event peak in October 2010. Thermocline feedback, explicitly represented by the relationship between T(e) and sea level in the ICM, is a crucial factor affecting the second cooling in 2011. Large negative T(e) anomalies were observed to persist in the central equatorial domain during 2010-11, inducing a cold SST anomaly to the east during July-August 2011 and leading to the development of a La Niña condition thereafter.

Concepts: Scientific method, Oceanography, Temperature, Aquatic ecology, Cold, Sea surface temperature, Gauge theory, Mixed anomaly


During 2015-2016, record temperatures triggered a pan-tropical episode of coral bleaching, the third global-scale event since mass bleaching was first documented in the 1980s. Here we examine how and why the severity of recurrent major bleaching events has varied at multiple scales, using aerial and underwater surveys of Australian reefs combined with satellite-derived sea surface temperatures. The distinctive geographic footprints of recurrent bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, 2002 and 2016 were determined by the spatial pattern of sea temperatures in each year. Water quality and fishing pressure had minimal effect on the unprecedented bleaching in 2016, suggesting that local protection of reefs affords little or no resistance to extreme heat. Similarly, past exposure to bleaching in 1998 and 2002 did not lessen the severity of bleaching in 2016. Consequently, immediate global action to curb future warming is essential to secure a future for coral reefs.

Concepts: Algae, Coral, Coral reef, Scleractinia, Coral bleaching, Great Barrier Reef, Coral reefs, Sea surface temperature


Climate change is a global issue with effects that are difficult to manage at a regional scale. Yet more often than not climate factors are just some of multiple stressors affecting species on a population level. Non-climatic factors-especially those of anthropogenic origins-may play equally important roles with regard to impacts on species and are often more feasible to address. Here we assess the influence of climate change on population trends of the endangered Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) over the last 30 years, using a Bayesian model. Sea surface temperature (SST) proved to be the dominating factor influencing survival of both adult birds and fledglings. Increasing SST since the mid-1990s was accompanied by a reduction in survival rates and population decline. The population model showed that 33% of the variation in population numbers could be explained by SST alone, significantly increasing pressure on the penguin population. Consequently, the population becomes less resilient to non-climate related impacts, such as fisheries interactions, habitat degradation and human disturbance. However, the extent of the contribution of these factors to declining population trends is extremely difficult to assess principally due to the absence of quantifiable data, creating a discussion bias towards climate variables, and effectively distracting from non-climate factors that can be managed on a regional scale to ensure the viability of the population.

Concepts: Climate, Climate change, Penguin, Genera of birds, Sea surface temperature, Yellow-eyed Penguin, Waitaha Penguin, Population decline


Tropical reef systems are transitioning to a new era in which the interval between recurrent bouts of coral bleaching is too short for a full recovery of mature assemblages. We analyzed bleaching records at 100 globally distributed reef locations from 1980 to 2016. The median return time between pairs of severe bleaching events has diminished steadily since 1980 and is now only 6 years. As global warming has progressed, tropical sea surface temperatures are warmer now during current La Niña conditions than they were during El Niño events three decades ago. Consequently, as we transition to the Anthropocene, coral bleaching is occurring more frequently in all El Niño-Southern Oscillation phases, increasing the likelihood of annual bleaching in the coming decades.

Concepts: Algae, Coral, Coral reef, Scleractinia, Coral bleaching, Great Barrier Reef, Sea surface temperature, Zooxanthella


Harvested to perilously low numbers by commercial whaling during the past century, the large scale response of Antarctic blue whales Balaenoptera musculus intermedia to environmental variability is poorly understood. This study uses acoustic data collected from 586 sonobuoys deployed in the austral summers of 1997 through 2009, south of 38°S, coupled with visual observations of blue whales during the IWC SOWER line-transect surveys. The characteristic Z-call and D-call of Antarctic blue whales were detected using an automated detection template and visual verification method. Using a random forest model, we showed the environmental preferences pattern, spatial occurrence and acoustic behaviour of Antarctic blue whales. Distance to the southern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (SBACC), latitude and distance from the nearest Antarctic shores were the main geographic predictors of blue whale call occurrence. Satellite-derived sea surface height, sea surface temperature, and productivity (chlorophyll-a) were the most important environmental predictors of blue whale call occurrence. Call rates of D-calls were strongly predicted by the location of the SBACC, latitude and visually detected number of whales in an area while call rates of Z-call were predicted by the SBACC, latitude and longitude. Satellite-derived sea surface height, wind stress, wind direction, water depth, sea surface temperatures, chlorophyll-a and wind speed were important environmental predictors of blue whale call rates in the Southern Ocean. Blue whale call occurrence and call rates varied significantly in response to inter-annual and long term variability of those environmental predictors. Our results identify the response of Antarctic blue whales to inter-annual variability in environmental conditions and highlighted potential suitable habitats for this population. Such emerging knowledge about the acoustic behaviour, environmental and habitat preferences of Antarctic blue whales is important in improving the management and conservation of this highly depleted species.

Concepts: Antarctica, Sea surface temperature, Humpback whale, Southern Ocean, Whale song, Fin whale, Blue whale, Antarctic Circumpolar Current


Future California (CA) precipitation projections, including those from the most recent Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), remain uncertain. This uncertainty is related to several factors, including relatively large internal climate variability, model shortcomings, and because CA lies within a transition zone, where mid-latitude regions are expected to become wetter and subtropical regions drier. Here, we use a multitude of models to show CA may receive more precipitation in the future under a business-as-usual scenario. The boreal winter season-when most of the CA precipitation increase occurs-is associated with robust changes in the mean circulation reminiscent of an El Niño teleconnection. Using idealized simulations with two different models, we further show that warming of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures accounts for these changes. Models that better simulate the observed El Niño-CA precipitation teleconnection yield larger, and more consistent increases in CA precipitation through the twenty-first century.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Climate change, Arithmetic mean, Holocene, Global warming, Sea surface temperature, Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project


Global ocean temperatures rapidly warmed by ~5°C during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM; ~56 million years ago). Extratropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) met or exceeded modern subtropical values. With these warm extratropical temperatures, climate models predict tropical SSTs >35°C-near upper physiological temperature limits for many organisms. However, few data are available to test these projected extreme tropical temperatures or their potential lethality. We identify the PETM in a shallow marine sedimentary section deposited in Nigeria. On the basis of planktonic foraminiferal Mg/Ca and oxygen isotope ratios and the molecular proxy [Formula: see text], latest Paleocene equatorial SSTs were ~33°C, and [Formula: see text] indicates that SSTs rose to >36°C during the PETM. This confirms model predictions on the magnitude of polar amplification and refutes the tropical thermostat theory. We attribute a massive drop in dinoflagellate abundance and diversity at peak warmth to thermal stress, showing that the base of tropical food webs is vulnerable to rapid warming.

Concepts: Oxygen, Tropics, Geographical zone, Tropic of Cancer, Temperature, Heat, Ocean, Sea surface temperature