Sea surface temperature
- Sea surface temperature (SST) in European seas is increasing more rapidly than in the global oceans. The rate of increase is higher in the northern European seas and lower in the Mediterranean Sea.
- The rate of increase in sea surface temperature in all European seas during the past 25 years has been about 10 times faster than the average rate of increase during more than the past century.
- The rate of increase observed in the past 25 years is the largest ever measured in any previous 25 year period.
Sea surface temperature anomaly for period 1870-2006
Note: Data (oC) show the difference between annual average temperatures and the period 1982-2006 mean in different European seas
Coppini, G.; Pinardi, N.; Marullo, S. and Loewe, P., 2007. Compiled for EEA by the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) based on datasets made available by the Hadley Center. HADISST1: http:// hadobs.metoffice.com/hadisst/data/download.html. ENEA within Mediterranean Operational Oceanography Network (MOON), and Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (BSH) within the Baltic Operational Oceanography System (BOOS).
Sea surface temperature changes for the European seas 1982-2006
Coppini, G. and Pinardi, N., 2007. Compiled for EEA by the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) based on datasets made available by the Hadley Center HADISST1: http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadisst/data/ download.html.
The SST changes in the European regional seas are stronger than in the global oceans (Table 1). The strongest trend in the last 25 years is in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, while the rates are lower in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. The regional seas experienced warming rates that are up to six times larger than those in the global oceans in the past 25 years. These changes have not been observed in any other 25-year period since systematic observations started more than a century ago (Figure 1).
The spatial distribution of trend over the European seas is shown in Figure 2. It shows that the positive temperature trend is more pronounced in the North Sea, Baltic Sea, the area south of the Denmark Strait, the eastern part of the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea. Absolute maxima are located in the North Atlantic around 50oN, in the North Sea and Baltic Sea, with values over 0.06-0.07 oC/year. Negative trends are detected in the Greenland Sea. Here, the estimates also depend on the extent of the ice.
IPCC (2007a) reports global-scale SST patterns for the SRES-A1B scenario for 2011-2030, 2046-2065, and 2080-2099. In these scenarios, ocean warming evolves more slowly than the warming of the atmosphere. Initially ocean warming will be greatest in the upper 100 m of the ocean (in the surface mixed layer), but later in the 21st-century temperatures will also increase in the deep ocean (IPCC, 2007a; Watterson, 2003; Stouffer, 2004).
The scenario projects ocean warming to be relatively large in the Arctic and along the equator in the eastern Pacific, with less warming over the North Atlantic and in the Southern Ocean (e.g. Xu et al., 2005). Enhanced oceanic warming along the equator is also evident, and can be associated with oceanic heat flux changes (Watterson, 2003) and temperature changes in the atmosphere (Liu et al., 2005). It is not possible to project changes in SST for 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.
Table 1 Summary of sea surface temperature changes in the global ocean and the four
European regional seas
1871-2006 annual rate
(past 136 years)
1982-2006 annual rate
(past 25 years)
North Atlantic Ocean
Source: SST datasets from the Hadley Centre (HADISST1 (global)), MOON (Mediterranean Sea), and Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (Baltic and North Seas).
Indicator specification and metadata
- Sea surface temperature anomaly for period 1870-2006
- Sea surface temperature changes for the European seas 1982-2006
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
No related policy documents have been specified
Methodology for indicator calculation
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
No uncertainty has been specified
HadISST1 - Global sea ice and Sea Surface Temperature analyses
provided by Met Office Hadley Centre observations datasets
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)
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 013
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoTrine Christiansen
EEA Management Plan2010 (note: EEA internal system)
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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