Galaxy metallicity scaling relations provide a powerful tool for understanding galaxy evolution, but obtaining unbiased global galaxy gas-phase oxygen abundances requires proper treatment of the various line-emitting sources within spectroscopic apertures. We present a model framework that treats galaxies as ensembles of H II and diffuse ionized gas (DIG) regions of varying metallicities. These models are based upon empirical relations between line ratios and electron temperature for H II regions, and DIG strong-line ratio relations from SDSS-IV MaNGA IFU data. Flux-weighting effects and DIG contamination can significantly affect properties inferred from global galaxy spectra, biasing metallicity estimates by more than 0.3 dex in some cases. We use observationally motivated inputs to construct a model matched to typical local star-forming galaxies, and quantify the biases in strong-line ratios, electron temperatures, and direct-method metallicities as inferred from global galaxy spectra relative to the median values of the H II region distributions in each galaxy. We also provide a generalized set of models that can be applied to individual galaxies or galaxy samples in atypical regions of parameter space. We use these models to correct for the effects of flux-weighting and DIG contamination in the local direct-method mass–metallicity and fundamental metallicity relations, and in the mass–metallicity relation based on strong-line metallicities. Future photoionization models of galaxy line emission need to include DIG emission and represent galaxies as ensembles of emitting regions with varying metallicity, instead of as single H II regions with effective properties, in order to obtain unbiased estimates of key underlying physical properties.

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Published in The Astrophysical Journal, v. 850, no. 2, 136, p. 1-36.

© 2017. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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We acknowledge support from the NSF AAG grant AST-1312780 and grant NNX16AF54G from the NASA ADAP program. R.Y. acknowledges support by NSF AAG grant AST-1715898. Funding for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, and the Participating Institutions. SDSS-IV acknowledges support and resources from the Center for High-Performance Computing at the University of Utah.