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Sea surface temperature

Indicator Assessment Created 09 Nov 2012 Published 20 Nov 2012 Last modified 08 Oct 2015, 01:30 PM
Note: new version is available!
Indicator codes: CSI 046 , CLIM 013

Key messages

  • Sea surface temperature in European seas is increasing more rapidly than in the global oceans.
  • The rate of increase in sea surface temperature in all European seas during the past 25 years is the largest ever measured in any previous 25-year period. It has been about 10 times faster than the average rate of increase during the past century and beyond.
  • Global sea surface temperature is projected to rise more slowly than atmospheric temperature.

What is the trend in surface water temperature across European seas?

Annual average sea surface temperature anomaly in different European seas

Note: Time series of annual average sea surface temperature (°C), referenced to the average temperature between 1986 and 2010, in each of the European seas. Data sources: SST datasets from the Hadley Centre (HADISST1 (global)), MOON-ENEA (Mediterranean Sea), and Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (Baltic and North Seas), and MyOcean.

Data source:
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Mean annual sea surface temperature trend in European seas

Note: Spatial distribution of sea surface temperature trend over the past 25 years (1987-2011) for the European seas as calculated from the HADISST1 dataset. The units are °C/yr. Source: HADSST1 dataset (, masked where ice coverage constituted more than 20% of the sea water.

Data source:
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Past trends

SST is increasing globally and in Europe’s seas [i] but the rate of warming varies across European seas (Figure 1 and 2). Observed changes in SST of the global ocean and the regional seas of Europe are consistent with the changes in atmospheric temperature [ii].


Global SST is projected to rise more slowly than atmospheric temperature. Initially ocean warming will be largest in the upper 100 m of the ocean, but warming will continue to penetrate in the deep ocean during the 21st century [iii] (Watterson, 2003; Stouffer, 2004; IPCC, 2007). It is not possible to project changes in SST or the different geographic regions across Europe because the spatial resolution of the coupled ocean-climate models is not high enough to evaluate trends on the scale of individual European regional seas.

[i] Claude Frankignoul and Elodie Kestenare, „Observed Atlantic SST anomaly impact on the NAO: an update“, Journal of Climate 18, Nr. 19 (Oktober 2005): 4089–4094.

[ii] S. Levitus, „Warming of the World Ocean“, Science 287, Nr. 5461 (März 24, 2000): 2225–2229; N. A. Rayner et al., „Improved analyses of changes and uncertainties in sea surface temperature measured in situ since the mid-nineteenth century: the HadSST2 dataset“, Journal of Climate 19, Nr. 3 (Februar 2006): 446–469.

[iii] I. G. Watterson, „Effects of a dynamic ocean on simulated climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases“, Climate Dynamics 21 (2003): 197–209; R.J. Stouffer, „Time scales of climate response“, Journal of Climate 17 (2004): 209–217; IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, S. Solomon et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007),

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Annual average sea surface temperature anomaly in the global ocean and in different European seas
  • Mean annual sea surface temperature trend in European seas


  • Temperature (°C)
  • Rate of temperature change (°C/yr)

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package ( This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.

The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.


No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
    Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
  • DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
    Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
  • EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.


Methodology for indicator calculation

Sea surface temperature datasets stem from the Hadley Centre (HADISST1 (global)), MOON-ENEA (Mediterranean Sea), and Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (Baltic and North Seas), and MyOcean.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references


Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

In general, changes related to the physical and chemical marine environment are better documented than biological changes because links between cause and effect are better understood and often time series of observations are longer. For example, systematic observations of both sea-level and sea surface temperature were started around 1880 and are today complemented by observations from space that have high resolution in time and geographical coverage and by Argo floats that also automatically measure temperature and salinity below the ocean surface.

Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

Coasts and seas Coasts and seas

sea surface
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 046
  • CLIM 013
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Baltic Sea, Belgium, Black Sea, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mediterranean Sea, Netherlands, North Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Trine Christiansen

EEA Management Plan

2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years
Filed under:
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100