Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

Research Article

Global synchrony of an accelerating rise in sea surface temperature

Philip C. Reida1a2a3 c1 and Grégory Beaugranda4

a1 Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, The Hoe, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK

a2 Marine Institute, Plymouth University (MIPU), Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK

a3 Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (MBA), The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK

a4 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Laboratoire d'Océanologie et de Géosciences (LOG), UMR 8187 LOG, Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille, BP 80, 62930 Wimereux, France


The oceans have shown a recent rapid and accelerating rise in temperature with, given the close link between temperature and marine organisms, pronounced effects on ecosystems. Here we describe for the first time a globally synchronous pattern of pulsed short period (~1 year long) emanations of warm sea surface temperature anomalies from tropical seas towards the poles on the shelf/slope with an intensification of the warming after the 1976/1977, 1986/1987 and 1997/1998 El Niños. On the eastern margins of continents the anomalies propagate towards the poles in part by largely baroclinic boundary currents, reinforced by regional atmospheric warming. The processes contributing to the less continuous warm anomalies on western margins are linked to the transfer of warmth from adjacent western boundary currents. These climate induced events show a close parallelism with the timing of ecosystem changes in shelf seas, important for fisheries and ecosystem services, and melting of sea-ice.

(Received September 28 2011)

(Accepted March 16 2012)

(Online publication July 02 2012)


  • sea surface temperature;
  • principal component analysis;
  • boundary currents;
  • Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation;
  • El Niño;
  • Atlantic Gyre Index;
  • ecosystem synchrony;
  • regime shift;
  • sea-ice;
  • earthquake


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: P.C. Reid, SAHFOS, The Marine Laboratory, Citadel Hill, The Hoe, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK email: