Main content area

Climatic variability and trends in the surface waters of coastal British Columbia

Cummins, Patrick F., Masson, Diane
Progress in oceanography 2014 v.120 pp. 279-290
autumn, coastal water, coasts, freshwater, rivers, runoff, salinity, spring, surface water, surface water temperature, time series analysis, wind, winter, British Columbia
Multi-decadal records of monthly sea surface temperature (SST) and sea surface salinity (SSS) collected at a set of lighthouse stations are used to examine climatic variability and trends in the coastal waters of British Columbia. Particular attention is given to relations between the water property anomalies and variability in coastal freshwater discharge and alongshore wind stress. Within the Strait of Georgia, SSS anomalies are closely related to Fraser River discharge anomalies. Along the Pacific coast, anomalies in alongshore wind stress and freshwater runoff have the characteristics of white noise processes. A cross-correlation analysis demonstrates that SST and SSS variability along the open west coast is consistent with the response of a first-order autoregressive process driven by anomalous alongshore wind stress and coastal freshwater discharge, respectively. Thus climatic variability of SST and SSS along the Pacific coast of British Columbia occurs, in part, through the integration of noisy atmospheric forcing and coastal precipitation. Seasonal correlations show that SST is strongly related to wind stress during winter and fall. Conversely, SSS is relatively weakly related to the alongshore wind during spring, suggesting that variability in upwelling makes only a modest contribution to variability of SSS in the nearshore environment. Consistent with previous studies, secular trends indicate long-term warming and freshening of the coastal ocean at most stations. It is shown that long-term SST trends can be obscured by the pronounced climatic variability of these waters, requiring that time series extend for several decades to be reliably detected.