Climate Change Indicators in the United States

Line graph showing changes in average global sea surface temperature from 1880 to 2013.

This graph shows how the average surface temperature of the world’s oceans has changed since 1880. This graph uses the 1971 to 2000 average as a baseline for depicting change. Choosing a different baseline period would not change the shape of the data over time. The shaded band shows the range of uncertainty in the data, based on the number of measurements collected and the precision of the methods used.

Data source: NOAA, 2014 5


Key Points
  • Sea surface temperature increased over the 20th century and continues to rise. From 1901 through 2013, temperatures rose at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade (see Figure 1).
  • Sea surface temperatures have been higher during the past three decades than at any other time since reliable observations began in 1880 (see Figure 1).
  • Increases in sea surface temperature have largely occurred over two key periods: between 1910 and 1940, and from about 1970 to the present. Sea surface temperatures appear to have cooled between 1880 and 1910 (see Figure 1).
  • Changes in sea surface temperature vary regionally. While most parts of the world’s oceans have seen temperatures rise, a few areas have actually experienced cooling—for example, parts of the North Atlantic (see Figure 2).


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