Coastal areas such as estuaries, bays and fjords usually have hydrographic characteristics (e.g., temperature, salinity) which differ from those at larger spatial scales and in offshore areas. The differences can arise if the areas are subject to different climatic forcing or if they are relatively isolated from each other due to topographic and ocean circulation features which inhibit advective inputs of water mass properties. Local differences in hydrographic conditions can therefore potentially limit the applicability of existing long time series of coastally monitored temperatures for addressing questions at large spatial scales, such as the response of species distributions and phenologies to climate change. In this study we investigate the spatial synchrony of long-term sea surface temperatures in the North Sea-Baltic Sea region as measured daily at four coastal sites (Marsdiep, Netherlands; Torungen, Norway; Skagens Reef, Denmark; and Christianso, Denmark) and in several large offshore areas. All time series, including two series reconstructed and intercalibrated for this study (Skagens Reef and Christianso, Denmark), began during 1861-1880 and continue until at least 2001. Temperatures at coastal sites co-varied strongly with each other and with opportunistically measured offshore temperatures despite separation distances between measuring locations of 20-1200 km. This covariance is probably due to the influence of large-scale atmospheric processes on regional temperatures and is consistent with the known correlation radius of atmospheric fluctuations (ca. 1000 km). Differences (e. g, long-term trends, amplitude of seasonal variations) between coastal temperatures and those measured in adjacent offshore areas varied nonrandomly over time and were often significantly autocorrelated up to 2 years. These differences suggest that spatial variations in physical oceanographic phenomena and sampling heterogeneities associated with opportunistic sampling could affect perceptions of biological responses to temperature fluctuations. The documentation that the coastally measured temperatures co-vary with those measured opportunistically in offshore areas suggests that the coastal data, which have been measured daily using standardized methods and instruments, contain much of the variability seen at larger spatial scales. We conclude that both types of time series can facilitate assessments of how species and ecosystems have responded to past temperature changes and how they may react to future temperature changes. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.