The physical climate defines a significant portion of the habitats in which biological communities and species reside. It is important to quantify these environmental conditions, and how they have changed, as this will inform future efforts to study many natural systems. In this article, we present the results of a statistical summary of the variability in sea surface temperature (SST) time-series data for the waters surrounding Australia, from 1993 to 2013. We partition variation in the SST series into annual trends, inter-annual trends, and a number of components of random variation. We utilise satellite data and validate the statistical summary from these data to summaries of data from long-term monitoring stations and from the global drifter program. The spatially dense results, available as maps from the Australian Oceanographic Data Network's data portal (http://www.cmar.csiro.au/geonetwork/srv/en/metadata.show?id=51805), show clear trends that associate with oceanographic features. Noteworthy oceanographic features include: average warming was greatest off southern West Australia and off eastern Tasmania, where the warming was around 0.6°C per decade for a twenty year study period, and insubstantial warming in areas dominated by the East Australian Current, but this area did exhibit high levels of inter-annual variability (long-term trend increases and decreases but does not increase on average). The results of the analyses can be directly incorporated into (biogeographic) models that explain variation in biological data where both biological and environmental data are on a fine scale.
A subsequent CSIRO study, published in 2018 in Nature Scientific Reports (see Global patterns of change and variation in sea surface temperature and chlorophyll a), applied the statistical approach above to seek and recover the necessary details from the aggregated data at a global scale. It identified how fine scale ocean structures respond to events including climate change. This statistical approach has now been adapted for use in the Australian sea surface temperature atlas which is available through the Australian Ocean Data Network.