A 25-yr (1981–2005) time series of daily latent and sensible heat fluxes over the global ice-free oceans has been produced by synthesizing surface meteorology obtained from satellite remote sensing and atmospheric model reanalyses outputs. The project, named Objectively Analyzed Air–Sea Fluxes (OAFlux), was developed from an initial study of the Atlantic Ocean that demonstrated that such data synthesis improves daily flux estimates over the basin scale. This paper introduces the 25-yr heat flux analysis and documents variability of the global ocean heat flux fields on seasonal, interannual, decadal, and longer time scales suggested by the new dataset.

The study showed that, among all the climate signals investigated, the most striking is a long-term increase in latent heat flux that dominates the data record. The globally averaged latent heat flux increased by roughly 9 W m−2 between the low in 1981 and the peak in 2002, which amounted to about a 10% increase in the mean value over the 25-yr period. Positive linear trends appeared on a global scale, and were most significant over the tropical Indian and western Pacific warm pool and the boundary current regions. The increase in latent heat flux was in concert with the rise of sea surface temperature, suggesting a response of the atmosphere to oceanic forcing.

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Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts