Satellite-based time-series of sea-surface temperature since 1981 for climate applications

Christopher J. Merchant, Owen Embury, Claire E. Bulgin, Thomas Block, Gary K. Corlett, Emma Fiedler, Simon A. Good, Jonathan Mittaz, Nick A. Rayner, David Berry, Steinar Eastwood, Michael Taylor, Yoko Tsushima, Alison Waterfall, Ruth Wilson, Craig Donlon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

207 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


A climate data record of global sea surface temperature (SST) spanning 1981-2016 has been developed from 4 × 1012 satellite measurements of thermal infra-red radiance. The spatial area represented by pixel SST estimates is between 1 km2 and 45 km2. The mean density of good-quality observations is 13 km-2 yr-1. SST uncertainty is evaluated per datum, the median uncertainty for pixel SSTs being 0.18 K. Multi-annual observational stability relative to drifting buoy measurements is within 0.003 K yr-1 of zero with high confidence, despite maximal independence from in situ SSTs over the latter two decades of the record. Data are provided at native resolution, gridded at 0.05° latitude-longitude resolution (individual sensors), and aggregated and gap-filled on a daily 0.05° grid. Skin SSTs, depth-adjusted SSTs de-aliased with respect to the diurnal cycle, and SST anomalies are provided. Target applications of the dataset include: climate and ocean model evaluation; quantification of marine change and variability (including marine heatwaves); climate and ocean-atmosphere processes; and specific applications in ocean ecology, oceanography and geophysics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number223
JournalScientific Data
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Sea surface temperature
  • Remote sensing

Cite this