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Model-based evidence of deep-ocean heat uptake during surface-temperature hiatus periods

Nature Climate Change volume 1, pages 360364 (2011) | Download Citation

Abstract

There have been decades, such as 2000–2009, when the observed globally averaged surface-temperature time series shows little increase or even a slightly negative trend1 (a hiatus period). However, the observed energy imbalance at the top-of-atmosphere for this recent decade indicates that a net energy flux into the climate system of about 1 W m−2 (refs 2, 3) should be producing warming somewhere in the system4,5. Here we analyse twenty-first-century climate-model simulations that maintain a consistent radiative imbalance at the top-of-atmosphere of about 1 W m−2 as observed for the past decade. Eight decades with a slightly negative global mean surface-temperature trend show that the ocean above 300 m takes up significantly less heat whereas the ocean below 300 m takes up significantly more, compared with non-hiatus decades. The model provides a plausible depiction of processes in the climate system causing the hiatus periods, and indicates that a hiatus period is a relatively common climate phenomenon and may be linked to La Niña-like conditions.

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Acknowledgements

We thank C. Tebaldi for her contributions to the statistical-significance calculations. Portions of this study were supported by the Office of Science (BER), US Department of Energy, Cooperative Agreement No DE-FC02-97ER62402, by the National Science Foundation and by NASA grant NNX09AH89G. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

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Affiliations

  1. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80307, USA

    • Gerald A. Meehl
    • , Julie M. Arblaster
    • , John T. Fasullo
    • , Aixue Hu
    •  & Kevin E. Trenberth
  2. Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research (CAWCR), Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne 3001, Australia

    • Julie M. Arblaster

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Contributions

G.A.M., J.M.A., J.T.F., A.H. and K.E.T. contributed to model data analysis. G.A.M., J.M.A., J.T.F., A.H. and K.E.T. contributed to writing the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gerald A. Meehl.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1229

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