National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2009

In situ data biases and recent ocean heat content variability

Willis, J.K., J.M. Lyman, G.C. Johnson, and J. Gilson

J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 26(4), 846–852, doi: 10.1175/2008JTECHO608.1 (2009)

Two significant instrument biases have been identified in the in situ profile data used to estimate globally integrated upper-ocean heat content. A large cold bias was discovered in a small fraction of Argo floats along with a smaller but more prevalent warm bias in expendable bathythermograph (XBT) data. These biases appear to have caused the bulk of the upper-ocean cooling signal reported by Lyman et al. between 2003 and 2005. These systematic data errors are significantly larger than sampling errors in recent years and are the dominant sources of error in recent estimates of globally integrated upper-ocean heat content variability. The bias in the XBT data is found to be consistent with errors in the fall-rate equations, suggesting a physical explanation for that bias. With biased profiles discarded, no significant warming or cooling is observed in upper-ocean heat content between 2003 and 2006.

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