Biases in expendable bathythermograph data: A new view based on historical side-by-side comparisons

Rebecca Cowley, Susan Wijffels, Lijing Cheng, Tim Boyer, Shoichi Kizu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Because they make up 56% of ocean temperature profile data between 1967 and 2001, quantifying the biases in expendable bathythermograph (XBT) data is fundamental to understanding the evolution of the planetary energy and sea level budgets over recent decades. The nature and time history of these biases remain in dispute and dominate differences in analyses of the history of ocean warming. A database of over 4100 side-by-side deployments of XBTs and conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) data has been assembled, and this unique resource is used to characterize and separate out the pure temperature bias from depth error in a way that was not previously possible. Two independent methods of bias extraction confirm that the results are robust to bias model and fitting method. It was found that there is a pure temperature bias in Sippican probes of ~0.05°C, independent of depth. The temperature bias has a time dependency, being larger (~0.1°C) in the earlier analog acquisition era and being likely due to changes in recorder type. Large depth errors are found in the 1970s-80s in shallower-measuring Sippican T4/T6 probe types, but the deeper-measuring Sippican T7/Deep Blue (DB) types have no error during this time. The Sippican T7/DB fall rate slows from ~1990 onward. It is found that year-to-year variations in fall rate have a bigger effect on corrections to the global XBT database than do any small effects of ocean temperature on fall rate. This study has large implications for the future development of better schemes to correct the global historical XBT archive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1195-1225
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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