Whole truths vs. half truths - And a search for clarity in long-term water temperature records

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There is widespread acceptance among the scientific community that human activities are the primary cause of present day climate change. But, how a changing climate impacts ecosystems is still a source of confusion to the public. Some of this confusion is associated with a lack of clear communication among journalists and scientists, particularly when it comes to addressing variability and uncertainty in ecological datasets. Here we use long-term surface water temperature data sets from Narragansett Bay and a recent misunderstanding of long-term temperature data that occurred on the national stage as a case study. Specifically, we re-evaluate and update the record and examine the variability inherent in long-term data sets. We found that despite high year to year variations the surface waters of Narragansett Bay have increased between 1.4°C to 1.6°C total rise over the last fifty years. Winter warming has been especially high over this time period, increasing between 1.6°C to 2.0°C. Finally, we identify the need for scientists, politicians, and journalists to appropriately address data variability and we argue for increased communication among these groups.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science