Errors in estimated temporal tracer trends due to changes in the historical observation network: A case study of oxygen trends in the Southern Ocean

Dong Ha Min, Klaus Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Scopus citations


Several models predict large and potentially abrupt ocean circulation changes due to anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions. These circulation changes drive-in the models-considerable oceanic oxygen trend. A sound estimate of the observed oxygen trends can hence be a powerful tool to constrain predictions of future changes in oceanic deepwater formation, heat and carbon dioxide uptake. Estimating decadal scale oxygen trends is, however, a nontrivial task and previous studies have come to contradicting conclusions. One key potential problem is that changes in the historical observation network might introduce considerable errors. Here we estimate the likely magnitude of these errors for a subset of the available observations in the Southern Ocean. We test three common data analysis methods south of Australia and focus on the decadal-scale trends between the 1970's and the 1990's. Specifically, we estimate errors due to sparsely sampled observations using a known signal (the time invariant, temporally averaged, World Ocean Atlas 2001) as a negative control. The crossover analysis and the objective analysis methods are far less prone to spatial sampling location biases than the area averaging method. Subject to numerous caveats, we find that errors due to sparse sampling for the area averaging method are on the order of several micromoles kg-1. For the crossover and the objective analysis method, these errors are much smaller. For the analyzed example, the biases due to changes in the spatial design of the historical observation network are relatively small compared to the trends predicted by many model simulations. This raises the possibility to use historic oxygen trends to constrain model simulations, even in sparsely sampled ocean basins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-195
Number of pages7
JournalOcean and Polar Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2005


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Geology
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes

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