Seasonal sea surface temperature anomaly prediction for coastal ecosystems

Charles A. Stock, Kathy Pegion, Gabriel Andres Vecchi, Michael A. Alexander, Desiree Tommasi, Nicholas A. Bond, Paula S. Fratantoni, Richard G. Gudgel, Trond Kristiansen, Todd D. O'Brien, Yan Xue, Xiasong Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies are often both leading indicators and important drivers of marine resource fluctuations. Assessment of the skill of SST anomaly forecasts within coastal ecosystems accounting for the majority of global fish yields, however, has been minimal. This reflects coarse global forecast system resolution and past emphasis on the predictability of ocean basin-scale SST variations. This paper assesses monthly to inter-annual SST anomaly predictions in coastal "Large Marine Ecosystems" (LMEs). We begin with an analysis of 7 well-observed LMEs adjacent to the United States and then examine how mechanisms responsible for prediction skill in these systems are reflected in predictions for LMEs globally. Historical SST anomaly estimates from the 1/4° daily Optimal Interpolation Sea Surface Temperature reanalysis (OISST.v2) were first found to be highly consistent with in-situ measurements for 6 of the 7 U.S. LMEs. Thirty years of retrospective forecasts from climate forecast systems developed at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (CM2.5-FLOR) and the National Center for Environmental Prediction (CFSv2) were then assessed against OISST.v2. Forecast skill varied widely by LME, initialization month, and lead but there were many cases of high skill that also exceeded that of a persistence forecast, some at leads greater than 6. months. Mechanisms underlying skill above persistence included accurate simulation of (a) seasonal transitions between less predictable locally generated and more predictable basin-scale SST variability; (b) seasonal transitions between different basin-scale influences; (c) propagation of SST anomalies across seasons through sea ice; and (d) re-emergence of previous anomalies upon the breakdown of summer stratification. Globally, significant skill above persistence across many tropical systems arises via mechanisms (a) and (b). Combinations of all four mechanisms contribute to less prevalent but nonetheless significant skill in extratropical systems. While continued refinement of global climate forecast systems and observations are needed to improve coastal SST anomaly prediction and extend predictions to other ecosystem relevant variables (e.g., salinity), present skill warrants close examination of forecasts for marine resource applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-236
Number of pages18
JournalProgress in Oceanography
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science
  • Geology


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