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Retrospective prediction of the global warming slowdown in the past decade


Despite a sustained production of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, the Earth’s mean near-surface temperature paused its rise during the 2000–2010 period1. To explain such a pause, an increase in ocean heat uptake below the superficial ocean layer2,3 has been proposed to overcompensate for the Earth’s heat storage. Contributions have also been suggested from the deep prolonged solar minimum4, the stratospheric water vapour5, the stratospheric6 and tropospheric aerosols7. However, a robust attribution of this warming slowdown has not been achievable up to now. Here we show successful retrospective predictions of this warming slowdown up to 5 years ahead, the analysis of which allows us to attribute the onset of this slowdown to an increase in ocean heat uptake. Sensitivity experiments accounting only for the external radiative forcings do not reproduce the slowdown. The top-of-atmosphere net energy input remained in the [0.5–1] W m−2 interval during the past decade, which is successfully captured by our predictions. Most of this excess energy was absorbed in the top 700 m of the ocean at the onset of the warming pause, 65% of it in the tropical Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Our results hence point at the key role of the ocean heat uptake in the recent warming slowdown. The ability to predict retrospectively this slowdown not only strengthens our confidence in the robustness of our climate models, but also enhances the socio-economic relevance of operational decadal climate predictions.

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Figure 1: Ability to capture the warming slowdown.
Figure 2: Earth’s heat budget.
Figure 3: Ability to predict the ocean heat storage.

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We thank M. A. Balmaseda and M. Davis for their comments on the manuscript, J. Garcı´a-Serrano for the OHC from the Ishii and Kimoto29 reanalysis, N. Ferry and G. Garric for the GLORYS2v1 reanalysis, and O. Mula-Valls and D. Manubens-Gil for their technical support. This work was supported by the EU-funded SPECS (FP7-ENV-2012-308378), QWeCI (FP7-ENV-2009-1-243964), CLIM-RUN (FP7-ENV-2010-1-265192), the MICINN-funded RUCSS (CGL2010-20657) projects, the Catalan Government and the Red Española de Supercomputación (RES).

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V.G. and F.J.D-R. designed the research and performed the analyses. M.A. ran the experiments. V.G., F.J.D-R. and I.A-B. interpreted the results and wrote the article.

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Correspondence to Virginie Guemas.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Guemas, V., Doblas-Reyes, F., Andreu-Burillo, I. et al. Retrospective prediction of the global warming slowdown in the past decade. Nature Clim Change 3, 649–653 (2013).

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