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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus," by Matthew H. England et al., Nature Clim. Change (2014); doi: 10.1038/nclimate2106

Nature Climate Change, 4 (9 February 2014) 222–227; doi: 10.1038/nclimate2106

Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus


Despite ongoing increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, the Earths global average surface air temperature has remained more or less steady since 2001. A variety of mechanisms have been proposed to account for this slowdown in surface warming. A key component of the global hiatus that has been identified is cool eastern Pacific sea surface temperature, but it is unclear how the ocean has remained relatively cool there in spite of ongoing increases in radiative forcing. Here we show that a pronounced strengthening in Pacific trade winds over the past two decades—unprecedented in observations/reanalysis data and not captured by climate models—is sufficient to account for the cooling of the tropical Pacific and a substantial slowdown in surface warming through increased subsurface ocean heat uptake. The extra uptake has come about through increased subduction in the Pacific shallow overturning cells, enhancing heat convergence in the equatorial thermocline. At the same time, the accelerated trade winds have increased equatorial upwelling in the central and eastern Pacific, lowering sea surface temperature there, which drives further cooling in other regions. The net effect of these anomalous winds is a cooling in the 2012 global average surface air temperature of 0.1–0.2 °C, which can account for much of the hiatus in surface warming observed since 2001. This hiatus could persist for much of the present decade if the trade wind trends continue, however rapid warming is expected to resume once the anomalous wind trends abate. [Note to readers -- the winds have shifted from west to east, and a Kelvin wave is bringing very anomalously warm water to the eastern Pacific, with a probable El Nino forming in a few more months.]

At a glance


  1. Global average SAT and Pacific trade wind anomalies
    over the past century.
    Figure 1
  2. Observed trends in winds, SLP, sea surface height, SST and SAT during 1992-2011.
    Figure 2
  3. Schematic of the trends in temperature and
        ocean-atmosphere circulation in the Pacific over the past two
    Figure 3
  4. Model temperature and ocean circulation anomalies due
    to observed 1992-2011 wind trends over the Pacific Ocean, and projections to
    Figure 4


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