By Ernest. A. Afiesimama

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Ernest. A. Afiesimama

Marine Meteorology and Oceanography Laboratory

Nigerian Meteorological Services

P.M.B. 12542



Sea surface temperature(SST) for the period 1989–1998 over the coast of Lagos has been statistically analysed. The monthly mean for the period revealed a bi-modal characteristics. The first SST peak occurs in April and the second in November, although the former is higher than the latter with a minimum in August. The maximum SST reached in April lies between 29 – 30oC, while in November it is usually about 29oC. The minimum SST in August lies between 26 – 27oC. The indication is that the Nigerian coastal waters is warmest in April and coldest in August. This minimum SST has been linked with less insolation resulting from the stratified clouds and stability of the lower parts of the atmosphere during mid-summer.

A knowledge of this characteristics has been useful to the coastal fishermen, prediction of local weather over marine environment and the adjacent Lagos Islands and in Climate monitoring programmes.


Sea surface temperature and its variations is a geophysical variable of considerable importance to marine meteorological services, marine climatology and also other large and small-scale research programmes. Its distributions on local, regional, hemispheric or global scales are of interest to scientists for the study of a variety of processes in the sea and in the atmosphere. These ranges from local air-sea interactions, and their relation to local weather prediction through changing boundary conditions. Processes in the ocean also often have thermal expressions at the sea surface e.g mesoscale eddies, upwelling etc. Adedokun (1978) has noted that the upwelling process that takes place, for instance, off the Accra coast can be weakened/(strengthened) by increase/(decrease) in SST which can result from a weakening/(strengthening) of the southwesterly winds. Many authors have also investigated the connection between regional sea surface temperature with weather phenomena. Some of these authors (Lamb, 1978, Fontaine et al,1993, Folland et al,1986) linked rainfall variability to occurences of Atlantic and /or global SST dipole patterns. In particular, Sahel drought has been asssociated with warmer than normal SST in the Southern Atlantic, the Southern Pacific, and the Indian Ocean, and colder than normal SST in the Northern Atlantic and the Northern Pacific (Folland et al, 1986). Afiesimama, 1996 in his study of the sea surface temperature in the Northern Atlantic over the Gulf of Guinea observed that the first SST peak lags the first rainfall peak in Southern Nigeria by about two months.

The influence of the oceans on the atmosphere is through direct radiation and through release of latent heat of evaporation, and both of these processes are directly related to the surface temperature of the ocean. The temperature of the uppermost layer of the ocean determines the heat content there. Observed large-scale and persistent anomalies in sea surface temperature are of great interest in climate monitoring and research, especially in investigating the ocean heat balance, general atmospheric circulation and the maritime climate.

Marine weather observers have since 1988 been making sea surface temperature observations at East Mole station, about 2kilometres from the shoreline. The station uses the rubber sea-temperature bucket thermometer and makes observations on hourly basis. Sea surface temperature has influence on Lagos coastal weather and it is important especially for coastal fishermen, offshore oil and gas industries, shipping vessels, coastal recreational and port handling facilities. Afiesimama(1996) in his study over the Atlantic Ocean and West Africa has indicated some evidence of teleconnections between the ocean surface temperature and rainfall. Similarly, Indeje(1995) established a relationship between the Pacific Ocean surface temperatures and rainfall over parts of East Africa. He however, stressed that peak rainfall values were concentrated along the coastal regions and some western parts of the region .

An ENSO episode is primarily evidenced through the appearance of sea surface temperature anomalies. The ENSO warm episode conditions dominated the tropical pacific during the period 1991 to early 1995, which is part of the period under consideration. The equatorial central and eastern pacific ocean surface temperature anomalies thereafter steadily decreased, becoming negative during the latter half of 1995, as weak cold episode conditions developed in the region. Negative sea surface temperature anomalies also spread both north and south from the equator, so anomalies covered the region. Consistent with the reversal in the sign of ocean surface temperature anomalies, cloudiness and rainfall decreased to less than normal over the central equatorial pacific and increased to greater than normal over Indonesia(WMO,1996). However, the Atlantic ocean during the same period showed marginal positive anomalies. Also, the ENSO event of 1997/98 has been considered the most significant episode which caused loss of lives and property worth millions of dollars.

These are some of the teleconnections of the sea surface temperature with weather and climate. The attempt in this paper is however to highlight the features of sea surface temperature over the Lagos coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean.


The mean daily observations for each month and for each year for the period 1989-1998 were statistically treated to obtain the monthly mean sea surface temperature values. Figure 1(a - j) shows the monthly variations of SST for the period 1989 – 1998. The mean monthly SST for the period 1989 – 1998 is also presented in figure 2.


The results of the various analyses show that the sea surface temperature gradually increases from January to a peak in April in most cases. This is about the time the sea is warmest and typical values lie between 29 – 30oC . This is also a period close to northern summer and the sun is apparently moving northwards. The coast is at this time influenced by the southwesterly winds and convective clouds. Insolation too is high resulting into warm sea surfaces.

The temperature of the sea falls significantly at the end of May by about 1oC in June, and further drops to a minimum in August. A period coinciding with when the tropical maritime airmass has stretched its full length northwards and the Inter-tropical Discontinuity(ITD) has reached its northernmost position of about 22oN. Typical sea surface temperature values in August lies between 26 – 27oC. These temperatures are considered minimum in the equatorial region but are warm relative to subtropical and mid-latitude Atlantic Ocean. One observed

reason for the low sea surface temperature over the coast of Guinea is connected with the infringement of the West African coast by the ridge of the south subtropical anticyclone(St Helena’s High), the result is the stability of the coastal atmosphere with layered clouds. These clouds reflect, scatter and make opaque the incoming solar radiation and therefore not much of this radiation reaches the sea surface.

A second peak occurs in November which is also the beginning of winter over the region where SST as high as about 29oC in the mean is observed. It is a transitional period when the

convective clouds gradually give way to the dusty atmosphere as the West African subregion comes under the influence of the Northeast trades.


The results indicated the response of the sea surface to insolation at different atmospheric conditions and at different seasons of the year. The ocean receives varying amount of solar radiation in clear, cloudy and dusty atmospheres.

The analyses of sea surface temperature from East Mole offshore station revealed that it has a bi-modal characteristics. The basic features are as follows :

  1. The first peak of the mean monthly sea surface temperature occurs in April with a mean value of about 30oC for the 10-year period under study.

  1. The sea surface temperature then drops to a minimum in August. Typical values in August lies between 26-27oC. This low sea surface temperature may not be unconnected with the encroachment over the West African coast by the ridge of the south subtropical anticyclone, resulting into the stability and stratification of clouds over the coastal atmosphere.

  1. The second peak occurs in November, the beginning of winter over the region and the mean monthly sea surface temperature is usually about 29oC.

The nature of the curves is in sympathy with the reception of the incoming solar radiation on

the sea surface. The atmospheric conditions, in part, attenuate the insolation through reflection,

scattering etc. And the sea surface temperature characteristic have also assissted in

understanding local winds and consequent weather and climate patterns over Southern

Nigeria in particular. This study could by extension be used to investigate climate pattern over

West Africa.

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No 36

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