>On Liu and Curry (2010) “Accelerated Warming of the Southern Ocean and Its Impacts on the Hydrological Cycle and Sea Ice”

>The Liu and Curry (2010) paper has been the subject of a number of posts at Watts Up With That over the past few days. This post should complement Willis Eschenbach’s post Dr. Curry Warms the Southern Ocean, by providing a more detailed glimpse at the availability of source data used by Hadley Centre and NCDC in their SST datasets and by illustrating SST anomalies for the periods used by Liu and Curry. I’ve also extended the data beyond the cutoff year used by Liu and Curry to show the significant drop in SST anomalies since 1999.

Preliminary Note: I understand that Liu and Curry illustrated the principal component from an analysis of the SST data south of 40S, but there are two primary objectives of this post as noted above: to show how sparse the source data is and to show that SST anomalies for the studied area have declined significantly since 1999.

On the Georgia Tech on: “the paradox of the Antarctic sea ice” thread at WUWT, author Judith Curry kindly linked a copy of the paper in manuscript form:

Liu and Curry use two Sea Surface Temperature datasets, ERSST and HADISST. They clarify which of the NCDC ERSST datasets they used with their citation of Smith TM, Reynolds RW (2004) Improved Extended Reconstruction of SST (1854-1997). J. Clim. 17:2466-247. That’s the ERSST.v2 version. First question some readers might have: If ERSST.v2 was replaced by ERSST.v3b, why use the old version? Don’t know, so I’ll include both versions in the following graphs.

Liu and Curry examine the period of 1950 to 1999. Sea surface temperature data south of 40S is very sparse prior to the satellite era. The HADISST data began to include satellite-based SST readings in 1982. Considering the NCDC deleted satellite data from their ERSST.v3 data (making it ERSST.v3b) that dataset and their ERSST.v2 continue to rely on very sparse buoy- and ship-based observations. ICOADS is the ship- and buoy-based SST dataset that serves as the source for Hadley Centre and NCDC. Figure 1 shows typical monthly ICOADS SST observations for the Southern Hemisphere, south of 40S. The South Pole Stereographic maps are for Januarys in 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000. Since I wanted to illustrate locations and not values, I set the contour levels so that they were out of the range of the data. I used Januarys because it is a Southern Hemisphere summer month and might get more ship traffic along shipping lanes.
Figure 1

As you can see, there is very little data as a starting point for Hadley Centre and NCDC, but they do manage to infill the SST data using statistical tools. Refer to Figure 2. It shows that the three SST datasets provided complete coverage in 1950 and 1999, which are the start and end years of the period examined by Liu and Curry. For more information on the ERSST and HADISST datasets refer to my post An Overview Of Sea Surface Temperature Datasets Used In Global Temperature Products.
Figure 2

A question some might ask, why did Liu and Curry end the data in 1999? Dunno.

As noted above, Liu and Curry illustrate data for the latitudes south of 40S. There are differences of opinion about what makes up the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean. Geography.com writes about the Southern Ocean, “A decision by the International Hydrographic Organization in the spring of 2000 delimited a fifth world ocean – the Southern Ocean – from the southern portions of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. The Southern Ocean extends from the coast of Antarctica north to 60 degrees south latitude, which coincides with the Antarctic Treaty Limit. The Southern Ocean is now the fourth largest of the world’s five oceans (after the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Indian Ocean, but larger than the Arctic Ocean).”

But isolating the Southern Ocean for climate studies really isn’t that simple. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is said to isolate the Southern Ocean from the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Unfortunately, the northern boundary of the ACC varies as it circumnavigates the ocean surrounding Antarctica. Refer to the University of Miami Antarctic CP current webpage.

In this post, I’ll illustrate the SST anomalies of the area south of 40S that was used by Liu and Curry. They capture additional portions of the ocean within the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. (They also capture small areas north of the ACC.) And I’ll identify that data as the Mid-to-High Latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere (90S-40S).

I’ll also illustrate the SST anomalies of the Southern Ocean, as defined above (south of 60S), because they capture the Sea Surface Temperature anomalies of the Southern Ocean most influential on and influenced by Sea Ice. Let’s look at that data first.


Figure 3 compares the three versions of Southern Ocean (90S-60S) SST anomalies, from January 1950 to December 1999, the same years used by Liu and Curry. Included are ERSST.v2, which Is used in Liu and Curry, ERSST.v3b which is the current version of that dataset, and the HADISST data, also used in Liu and Curry. All three datasets are globally complete. And as shown in Figure 1, the Hadley Centre and NCDC have to do a significant amount of infilling to create spatially complete data for those latitudes. The data has been smoothed with a 13-month running-average filter to reduce the noise. Also shown are the linear trends. Again, this is not the full area of the Southern Hemisphere SST data used by Liu and Curry. I’ve provided it because it presents data that is more impacted by (and has more of an impact on) Sea Ice. The linear trend of the ERSST.v2 is almost twice that of the HADISST data. Note also the change in the variability of the HADISST data after the late 1970s. HADISST has used satellite data since 1982 and this helps capture the variability of the Southern Ocean SST anomalies.
Figure 3

Figure 4 shows the Southern Ocean SST anomalies for the ERSST.v2, ERSST.v3b, and HADISST from January 1950 to December 2009, with the data smoothed with a 13-month filter. The HADISST data peaked in the early 1990s and has been dropping since. This was not easily observed with the shortened dataset. The two ERSST datasets peaked in the early 1980s. For all three datasets, the recent declines in the SST anomalies have caused their linear trends to drop sharply from the values presented in Figure 3. In fact, the HADISST is now basically flat.
Figure 4


Figure 5 is a comparison graph of the SST anomalies for the latitudes (90S-40S) and years (1950-1999) used by Liu and Curry. Note how there are two distinctive periods when there are sharp rises in SST anomalies: from 1966 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1980. Then from 1980 to 1999 the SST anomalies for the mid-to-high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere flattened considerably. The HADISST data flattened more than the ERSST datasets.
Figure 5

In Figure 6, I’ve included the data through December 2009. Note the significant drops in the SST anomalies in all three datasets. All three peaked in 1997 (curiously before the peak of the 1997/98 El Niño), and have been dropping sharply since then.
Figure 6


The title of Liu and Curry (2010) “Accelerated Warming of the Southern Ocean and Its Impacts on the Hydrological Cycle and Sea Ice” contradicts the SST anomalies of the latitudes used in the paper. The SST anomalies are not warming. They are cooling and have been for more than a decade.


The Maps were created using, and the data is available through, the KNMI Climate Explorer:


About Bob Tisdale

Research interest: the long-term aftereffects of El Niño and La Nina events on global sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. Author of the ebook Who Turned on the Heat? and regular contributor at WattsUpWithThat.
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6 Responses to >On Liu and Curry (2010) “Accelerated Warming of the Southern Ocean and Its Impacts on the Hydrological Cycle and Sea Ice”

  1. Pascvaks says:

    >I still can't understand why Liu and Curry put this paper out. In and of itself, the paper says very little. Between the lines and behind the words used to detail their finding(?) they sound like a couple of brand new postgrads putting together their first weekly course paper; one that will soon be torn to shreds by the professor conducting the class. Is it only a publish or perish thing, something to satisfy funding requirements; or is it something else altogether? To me it's a mystery.

  2. >Very good. I wonder how many climate scientists realize how far the fallacy of confusing models for data has carried their endeavor?

  3. >In hard economic times it is almost unjustifiable to do such a kind of research, instead of using those resources in something more useful.

  4. Tonyb says:

    >Hi BobInteresting analysis of the paper with its related information, and some very interesting links.Through my writing of historical articles on climate change I know how few SST measurements were ever taken, what a tiny area of ocean they covered and what limited continuity there was of data. There is also a huge question mark over methodology and accuracy.(I met someone once who operated the bucket and then monitored engine intake temperatures, he was incredulous as to the degree of acuracy now claimed for his often casual efforts.)You kindly answered my question over at the WUWT Judith Curry thread. I have tried to access the information officially available but either there is no program to open it with (Windows was very unco-operative) or there are numerous choices confronting me.My basic point of contention is that we have some sort of handle on individual surface temperature records-such as CET – but this is a database consisting of hundreds of thousands of data points which we can reasonably consider to be accurate to half a degree and covers only a tiny portion of the globe.My concern -as enumerated by Willis-is thast we have far too few data points of any description to make any sort of guess on historic SST's, let alone ones accurate enough to parse to .06 of a degree.Would the person you mention as currently being on holiday be the best route to pursue this? Alternatively can you point me to a specific part of the many data bases you kindly linked to so I can pursue the matter on my own? With best regardsTonyb

  5. Dominic says:

    >Hi BobOnce again, thanks for the unending flow of data-centric climate observations. In this case, your analysis has me pondering much the same question asked by Pascvaks.While we're at it, thanks for teaching me how to use Climate Explorer and Excel properly, too. I suspect only a trickle of gratitude comes back in return for what must be very time-consuming research and writing. Hence this comment.Dominic

  6. Dominic says:

    >BobDeep in the vast outpouring of comments on the ‘doubt’ thread on Judith Curry’s new blog she makes the following statement: ‘for example in the past I have been too trusting of the sea surface temperature data sets’ (See http://judithcurry.com/2010/09/15/doubt/#comments Full comment below).I have no idea exactly what she was referring to, but it did strike me as an interesting remark in the light of your critique of this paper.(Original comment:)curryja says:September 16, 2010 at 1:32 pmScientists should heed “nullius in verba” in their research. But the challenge is what to believe outside the domain of our own investigation. This is an issue not only for scientists (for example in the past I have been too trusting of the sea surface temperature data sets), but it is a very big issue for the public and decision makers that do not conduct any primary investigation or individual assessment. A year or two ago, trusting the IPCC seemed reasonable; now fewer people would say this.(Ends)With kind regards,Dominic

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