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Enhanced warming of the subtropical mode water in the North Pacific and North Atlantic

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 656658 (2017) | Download Citation


Over the past six decades, the subtropical surface ocean has warmed at rates close to those of global mean surface ocean temperature1 except in western boundary current regions where the surface warming is locally enhanced by a factor of two2. Changes in the subsurface ocean, however, remain unclear because of lack of data. Compiling historical temperature measurements—some available for the first time—here we show that the subtropical mode water has warmed over the past six decades in both the North Pacific and North Atlantic. The rate of the warming is twice as large in the mode waters than at the surface. Subtropical mode waters are important water masses of vertically uniform temperature that are a few hundred metres thick and distributed widely in the main thermocline of the subtropical oceans3. The enhanced warming of subtropical mode waters can be traced back to the surface warming in the formation regions along the western boundary current extensions. Furthermore, we detect increased temperature stratification and decreased dissolved oxygen in the subtropical mode waters. The latter change has clear implications for predicting biogeochemical responses to climate warming.

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S.S. is supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) (Grant 15K17756) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science; T.S. by the Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency; S.-P.X. by the US National Science Foundation (1637450) Natural Science Foundation of China (41490640, 41490641), and Tohoku Forum of Creativity.

Author information


  1. Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8578, Japan

    • Shusaku Sugimoto
  2. Department of Geophysics, Graduate School of Science, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8578, Japan

    • Kimio Hanawa
    •  & Toshio Suga
  3. National Research Institute of Fisheries Science, Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency, Yokohama 236-8648, Japan

    • Tomowo Watanabe
  4. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

    • Shang-Ping Xie


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S.S. led this study and performed the analyses. T.S. and K.H. contributed to the development of the idea. T.W. conducted data quality control. S.S. and S.-P.X. wrote the manuscript with feedback from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shusaku Sugimoto.

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