Global and Regional Discrepancies between Early-Twentieth-Century Coastal Air and Sea Surface Temperature Detected by a Coupled Energy-Balance Analysis

Thumbnail Image
Chan, Duo
Gebbie, Geoffrey
Huybers, Peter
Linked Authors
Alternative Title
Date Created
Related Materials
Replaced By
Sea surface temperature
Air-sea interaction
Climate change
Surface temperature
A major uncertainty in reconstructing historical sea surface temperature (SST) before the 1990s involves correcting for systematic offsets associated with bucket and engine-room intake temperature measurements. A recent study used a linear scaling of coastal station-based air temperatures (SATs) to infer nearby SSTs, but the physics in the coupling between SATs and SSTs generally gives rise to more complex regional air–sea temperature differences. In this study, an energy-balance model (EBM) of air–sea thermal coupling is adapted for predicting near-coast SSTs from coastal SATs. The model is shown to be more skillful than linear-scaling approaches through cross-validation analyses using instrumental records after the 1960s and CMIP6 simulations between 1880 and 2020. Improved skill primarily comes from capturing features reflecting air–sea heat fluxes dominating temperature variability at high latitudes, including damping high-frequency wintertime SAT variability and reproducing the phase lag between SSTs and SATs. Inferred near-coast SSTs allow for intercalibrating coastal SAT and SST measurements at a variety of spatial scales. The 1900–40 mean offset between the latest SST estimates available from the Met Office (HadSST4) and SAT-inferred SSTs range between −1.6°C (95% confidence interval: [−1.7°, −1.4°C]) and 1.2°C ([0.8°, 1.6°C]) across 10° × 10° grids. When further averaged along the global coastline, HadSST4 is significantly colder than SAT-inferred SSTs by 0.20°C ([0.07°, 0.35°C]) over 1900–40. These results indicate that historical SATs and SSTs involve substantial inconsistencies at both regional and global scales. Major outstanding questions involve the distribution of errors between our intercalibration model and instrumental records of SAT and SST as well as the degree to which coastal intercalibrations are informative of global trends. Significance Statement To evaluate the consistency of instrumental surface temperature estimates before the 1990s, we develop a coupled energy-balance model to intercalibrate measurements of sea surface temperature (SST) and station-based air temperature (SAT) near global coasts. Our model captures geographically varying physical regimes of air–sea coupling and outperforms existing methods in inferring regional SSTs from SAT measurements. When applied to historical temperature records, the model indicates significant discrepancies between inferred and observed SSTs at both global and regional scales before the 1960s. Our findings suggest remaining data issues in historical temperature archives and opportunities for further improvements.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2023. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Climate 36(7), (2023): 2205-2220,
Embargo Date
Chan, D., Gebbie, G., & Huybers, P. (2023). Global and regional discrepancies between early 20th century coastal air and sea-surface temperature detected by a coupled energy-balance analysis. Journal of Climate, 36(7), 2205-2220.
Cruise ID
Cruise DOI
Vessel Name