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Regional and global sea-surface temperatures during the last interglaciation

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Science  20 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6322, pp. 276-279
DOI: 10.1126/science.aai8464

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Sea surface temperatures of the past

Understanding how warm intervals affected sea level in the past is vital for projecting how human activities will affect it in the future. Hoffman et al. compiled estimates of sea surface temperatures during the last interglacial period, which lasted from about 129,000 to 116,000 years ago. The global mean annual values were ∼0.5°C warmer than they were 150 years ago and indistinguishable from the 1995–2014 mean. This is a sobering point, because sea levels during the last interglacial period were 6 to 9 m higher than they are now.

Science, this issue p. 276

Abstract

The last interglaciation (LIG, 129 to 116 thousand years ago) was the most recent time in Earth’s history when global mean sea level was substantially higher than it is at present. However, reconstructions of LIG global temperature remain uncertain, with estimates ranging from no significant difference to nearly 2°C warmer than present-day temperatures. Here we use a network of sea-surface temperature (SST) records to reconstruct spatiotemporal variability in regional and global SSTs during the LIG. Our results indicate that peak LIG global mean annual SSTs were 0.5 ± 0.3°C warmer than the climatological mean from 1870 to 1889 and indistinguishable from the 1995 to 2014 mean. LIG warming in the extratropical latitudes occurred in response to boreal insolation and the bipolar seesaw, whereas tropical SSTs were slightly cooler than the 1870 to 1889 mean in response to reduced mean annual insolation.

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