Categories: GIS Data

There are Four Trillion Measurements in this Global Sea Surface Temperature Dataset

Researchers have compiled an enormous dataset with over four trillion satellite-based measurements of sea surface temperature.  Spanning from 1981 to 2016, this continuous global record is one of the longest satellite climate data records available.  Monitoring sea surface temperatures (SST) is an Essential Climate Variable listed by the United Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Temperature changes at the surface of the world’s oceans influence the Earth’s atmosphere, making measurements an important component for weather predictions and atmospheric model simulations.  The exchange of water and heat between the ocean’s surface and the atmosphere influence the development and intensity of tropical hurricanes.  Changes in sea surface temperatures can alter regional weather patterns, leading to flooding or drought.


Researchers used data from 14 satellite sensors were recalibrated, reprocessed, and merged to create this 35-year long dataset.  SST were collected using satellite measurements of thermal infra-red (TIR) radiance.  This involved two series of sensors on Earth-orbiting satellites: 11 Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometers (AVHRRs) and three Along-Track Scanning Radiometers (ATSRs).

Timeline of contributing missions, geophysical and on-orbit events affecting data quality, and El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phase. Figure: Merchant et al., 2019

The dataset was calibrated against the series of along-track scanning radiometers satellite sensors instead of using in situ data from passing ships and buoys.  A paper recently recently in Nature Scientific Data describes the development of the sea surface dataset.

The SST dataset will be made publicly available as an open dataset via ESA’s Climate Change Initiative’s open data portal in the form of NetCDF-4 format files.


Merchant, C. J., Embury, O., Bulgin, C. E., Block, T., Corlett, G. K., Fiedler, E., … & Eastwood, S. (2019). Satellite-based time-series of sea-surface temperature since 1981 for climate applications. Scientific data, 6(1), 1-18. doi:10.1038/s41597-019-0236-x

35-year data record charts sea-temperature change, European Space Agency


Global sea-surface temperature through the course of a typical year. Source:
ESA Climate Change Initiative


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