Response of global upper ocean temperature to changing solar irradiance


  • Warren B. White,

  • Judith Lean,

  • Daniel R. Cayan,

  • Michael D. Dettinger


By focusing on time sequences of basin-average and global-average upper ocean temperature (i.e., from 40°S to 60°N) we find temperatures responding to changing solar irradiance in three separate frequency bands with periods of >100 years, 18–25 years, and 9–13 years. Moreover, we find them in two different data sets, that is, surface marine weather observations from 1990 to 1991 and bathythermograph (BT) upper ocean temperature profiles from 1955 to 1994. Band-passing basin-average temperature records find each frequency component in phase across the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, yielding global-average records with maximum amplitudes of 0.04°±0.01°K and 0.07°±0.01°K on decadal and interdecadal scales, respectively. These achieve maximum correlation with solar irradiance records (i.e., with maximum amplitude 0.5 W m−2 at the top of the atmosphere) at phase lags ranging from 30° to 50°. From the BT data set, solar signals in global-average temperature penetrate to 80–160 m, confined to the upper layer above the main pycnocline. Operating a global-average heat budget for the upper ocean yields sea surface temperature responses of 0.01°–0.03°K and 0.02°–0.05°K on decadal and interdecadal scales, respectively, from the 0.1 W m−2 penetration of solar irradiance to the sea surface. Since this is of the same order as that observed (i.e., 0.04°–0.07°K), we can infer that anomalous heat from changing solar irradiance is stored in the upper layer of the ocean.