Marine heat waves (MHW): Characterizing a major climate impact in the Mediterranean

Graphical abstract


Marine heat waves (MHW), considered as persistent and spatially extensive sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies, have emerged as one of the global change-induced high impact events on the oceans. The study of MHWs received significant progress in recent years, although many unknowns remain. One of the most notable weaknesses is related to the absence of a universally established definition that would allow better intercomparison of results. It is our aim to contribute to this debate by considering the spatial extent to define a MHW. By applying this hypothesis to a relatively small, but complex, basin such as the Mediterranean, MHWs have been characterized and long-term trends assessed from SST satellite data analysis. Our results show that the inclusion of a minimum area threshold, 5 % of the area basin, greatly reduces the population of MHW events by not considering local SST anomalies that do not constitute a MHW event. A trend to more frequent, intense, and longer MHWs is found in the 1982–2021 period in the Mediterranean. In the spatial characterization and long-term trend analysis, regional differences were apparent. Results evidenced variations in MHWs characteristics and trends across the different sub-basins evidencing the fact that, even in a relatively small basin such as the Mediterranean, significant regional differences make it necessary to include a spatial perspective in the studies, beyond purely local analysis at each observation point in a large basin or even in the global ocean. Regarding the characterization of MHWs and trend analysis in the Mediterranean basin, a growing trend has been found in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity that accelerated since 2000 and especially in the last decade, pointing not just to a steady intensification and higher frequency of MHWs but to the emergence of a new set of more intense, long-lasting and spatially extensive MHWs in the recent years.


• Inclusion of a minimum spatial extent must be considered in the analysis of MHWs.•Regional differences in MHW indicated the need of a regional characterization.•MHWs show an increased frequency, intensity and duration in the Mediterranean.• MHW trends have accelerated in the last two decades in the Mediterranean.• New set of larger and more intense MHW events in the Mediterranean the last 20 years.

F. Pastor, S. Khodayar, Marine heat waves: Characterizing a major climate impact in the Mediterranean, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 861, 2023, 160621, ISSN 0048-9697,

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