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Understanding the Causes of Recent Warming of Mediterranean Waters. How Much Could Be Attributed to Climate Change?

December 12, 2013

During the past two decades, Mediterranean waters have been warming at a rather high rate resulting in scientific and social concern. This warming trend is observed in satellite data, field data and model simulations, and affects both surface and deep waters throughout the Mediterranean basin. However, the warming rate is regionally different and seems to change with time, which has led to the question of what causes underlie the observed trends. Here, we analyze available satellite information on sea surface temperature (SST) from the last 25 years using spectral techniques and find that more than half of the warming tendency during this period is due to a non-linear, wave-like tendency. Using a state of the art hydrodynamic model, we perform a hindcast simulation and obtain the simulated SST evolution of the Mediterranean basin for the last 52 years. These SST results show a clear sinusoidal tendency that follows the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) during the simulation period. Our results reveal that 58% of recent warming in Mediterranean waters could be attributed to this AMO-like oscillation, being anthropogenic-induced climate change only responsible for 42% of total trend. The observed acceleration of water warming during the 1990s therefore appears to be caused by a superimposition of anthropogenic-induced warming with the positive phase of the AMO, while the recent slowdown of this tendency is likely due to a shift in the AMO phase. It has been proposed that this change in the AMO phase will mask the effect of global warming in the forthcoming decades, and our results indicate that the same could also be applicable to the Mediterranean Sea. Henceforth, natural multidecadal temperature oscillations should be taken into account to avoid underestimation of the anthropogenic-induced warming of the Mediterranean basin in the future.

Macias D, Garcia-Gorriz E, Stips A, 2013, Understanding the Causes of Recent Warming of Mediterranean Waters. How Much Could Be Attributed to Climate Change? PLoS ONE 8, 11, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081591. Article.

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