Multi-decadal trends in sea surface salinity have been documented in studies published since AR4 (Boyer et al., 2007; Hosoda et al., 2009; Roemmich and Gilson, 2009; Durack and Wijffels, 2010), confirming the trends reported in AR4 based mainly on Boyer et al. (2005). The spatial pattern of surface salinity change is similar to the distribution of surface salinity itself: salinity tends to increase in regions of high mean salinity, where evaporation exceeds precipitation, and tends to decrease in regions of low mean salinity, where precipitation dominates (Figure 3.4). For example, salinity generally increased in the surface salinity maxima formed in the evaporation-dominated subtropical gyres. The surface salinity minima at subpolar latitudes and the intertropical convergence zones have generally freshened. Interbasin salinity differences are also enhanced: the relatively salty Atlantic has become more saline on average, while the relatively fresh Pacific has become fresher (Figures 3.5 and 3.9). No well-defined trend is found in the subpolar North Atlantic, which is dominated by decadal variability from atmospheric modes like the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO, Box 2.5). The 50-year salinity trends in Figure 3.4c, both positive and negative, are statistically significant at the 99% level over 43.8% of the global ocean surface (Durack and Wijffels, 2010); trends were less significant over the remainder of the surface. The patterns of salinity change in the complementary Hosoda et al. (2009) study of differences between the periods 1960–1989 and 2003–2007 (Figure 3.4d), using a different methodology, have a point-to-point correlation of 0.64 with the Durack and Wijffels (2010) results, with significant differences only in limited locations such as adjacent to the West Indies, Labrador Sea, and some coastlines (Figure 3.4c and d).
It is very likely that the globally averaged contrast between regions of high and low salinity relative to the global mean salinity has increased. The contrast between high and low salinity regions, averaged over the ocean area south of 70°N, increased by 0.13 [0.08 to 0.17] PSS78 from 1950 to 2008 using the data set of Durack and Wijffels (2010) , and by 0.12 [0.10 to 0.15] PSS78 using the data set of Boyer et al. (2009) with the range reported in brackets signifying a 99% confidence interval (Figure 3.21d).