Sea surface temperature
- Sea surface temperature in European seas has been increasing in the past century at a faster rate than the global ocean.
- The rate of increase in sea surface temperature in all European seas during the past 25 years is the largest ever measured in any 25-year period. It has been several times faster than the average rate of increase during the past century, and it is also much faster than the global ocean.
- Globally averaged sea surface temperature is projected to continue to increase although more slowly than atmospheric temperature.
What is the trend in surface water temperature across European seas?
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 (http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadisst/data/download.html), masked where ice coverage constituted more than 20% of the sea water.
- HadISST1 - Global sea ice and Sea Surface Temperature analyses provided by Met Office Hadley Centre observations datasets
Sea surface temperature (SST) has been increasing globally and in Europeans seas over the last 100 years at a faster rate than the global ocean. The rate of increase in European seas has been particularly rapid over the last 25 years (Figure 1) [i]. The rate of warming varies across European seas; the fastest warming has been observed in the Black Sea (Figure 2). The observed patterns of change in the subsurface ocean are consistent with changes in the surface ocean in response to climate change and natural variability and with known physical and biogeochemical processes in the ocean [ii].
It is very likely that globally-averaged surface and vertically-averaged ocean temperatures will further increase in the near-term and beyond. Due to the thermal inertia of the ocean, global SST is projected to rise more slowly than atmospheric temperature [iii].
It is not generally possible to project changes in SST for individual regional seas across Europe due to the insufficient spatial resolution of the applied coupled ocean-climate models. However, detailed projections are available for some regions. For the Baltic Sea, the increase in summer SST during the 21st century under medium to high emissions scenarios is projected to be about 2 °C in the southern parts and about 4 °C in the northern parts [iv].
[i] S. Levitus et al., ‘Global Ocean Heat Content 1955–2008 in Light of Recently Revealed Instrumentation Problems’,Geophysical Research Letters 36, no. 7 (11 April 2009), doi:10.1029/2008GL037155; M. Rhein et al., ‘Observations: Ocean’, inClimate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. T. F. Stocker et al. (Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 3, http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter03_FINAL.pdf; HELCOM,Climate Change in the Baltic Sea Area - HELCOM Thematic Assessment in 2013, Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings (Helsinki: HELCOM, 2013), http://helcom.fi/Lists/Publications/BSEP137.pdf.
[ii] Rhein et al., ‘Observations: Ocean’.
[iii] Gerald A. Meehl et al., ‘Climate Change Projections for the Twenty-First Century and Climate Change Commitment in the CCSM3’,Journal of Climate 19, no. 11 (June 2006): 2597–2616, doi:10.1175/JCLI3746.1; B. Kirtman et al., ‘Near-Term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability’, inClimate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. T. F. Stocker et al. (Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 11, http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter11_FINAL.pdf.
[iv] HELCOM,Climate Change in the Baltic Sea Area - HELCOM Thematic Assessment in 2013.
Indicator specification and metadata
- 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
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). 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, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) 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
- Frankignoul and Kestenare (2005) Observed Atlantic SST anomaly impact on the NAO: an update Journal of Climate 18(19), 4089–4094. doi:10.1175/JCLI3523.1
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 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Global Ocean OSTIA Sea Surface Temperature and Sea Ice Reanalysis
provided by Ocean Monitoring and Forecasting (MyOcean)
Sea surface temperature - Mediterranean Sea
provided by Mediterranean Observational Oceanography Network (MOON)
Sea surface temperature - Baltic and North Seas
provided by Baltic Operational Oceanographic System (BOOS)
HadISST1 - Global sea ice and Sea Surface Temperature analyses
provided by Met Office Hadley Centre observations datasets
Climate change (Primary topic)
Coasts and seas
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CSI 046
- CLIM 013
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoTrine Christiansen
EEA Management Plan2014 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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