Decadal Sea Surface Temperature Variability in the Subtropical South Pacific from 1726 to 1997 A.D.

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Science  10 Nov 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5494, pp. 1145-1148
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5494.1145

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We present a 271-year record of Sr/Ca variability in a coral from Rarotonga in the South Pacific gyre. Calibration with monthly sea surface temperature (SST) from satellite and ship measurements made in a grid measuring 1° by 1° over the period from 1981 to 1997 indicates that this Sr/Ca record is an excellent proxy for SST. Comparison with SST from ship measurements made since 1950 in a grid measuring 5° by 5° also shows that the Sr/Ca data accurately record decadal changes in SST. The entire Sr/Ca record back to 1726 shows a distinct pattern of decadal variability, with repeated decadal and interdecadal SST regime shifts greater than 0.75°C. Comparison with decadal climate variability in the North Pacific, as represented by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation index (1900–1997), indicates that several of the largest decadal-scale SST variations at Rarotonga are coherent with SST regime shifts in the North Pacific. This hemispheric symmetry suggests that tropical forcing may be an important factor in at least some of the decadal variability observed in the Pacific Ocean.

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