Letter | Published:

Recent Walker circulation strengthening and Pacific cooling amplified by Atlantic warming

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 888892 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

An unprecedented strengthening of Pacific trade winds since the late 1990s (ref. 1) has caused widespread climate perturbations, including rapid sea-level rise in the western tropical Pacific2,3,4,5, strengthening of Indo-Pacific ocean currents6,7, and an increased uptake of heat in the equatorial Pacific thermocline1. The corresponding intensification of the atmospheric Walker circulation is also associated with sea surface cooling in the eastern Pacific, which has been identified as one of the contributors to the current pause in global surface warming1,8,9. In spite of recent progress in determining the climatic impacts of the Pacific trade wind acceleration, the cause of this pronounced trend in atmospheric circulation remains unknown. Here we analyse a series of climate model experiments along with observational data to show that the recent warming trend in Atlantic sea surface temperature and the corresponding trans-basin displacements of the main atmospheric pressure centres were key drivers of the observed Walker circulation intensification, eastern Pacific cooling, North American rainfall trends and western Pacific sea-level rise. Our study suggests that global surface warming has been partly offset by the Pacific climate response to enhanced Atlantic warming since the early 1990s.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    et al. Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus. Nature Clim. Change 4, 222–227 (2014).

  2. 2.

    , & Wind effects on past and future regional sea level trends in the Southern Indo-Pacific. J. Clim. 23, 4429–4437 (2010).

  3. 3.

    , & Constraining wind stress products with sea surface height observations and implications for Pacific Ocean sea level trend attribution. J. Clim. 25, 8164–8176 (2012).

  4. 4.

    , , , & Decadal and long-term sea level variability in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean. Clim. Dynam. 41, 381–402 (2013).

  5. 5.

    et al. Intensification of decadal and multi-decadal sea level variability in the western tropical Pacific during recent decades. Clim. Dynam. (2013).

  6. 6.

    et al. The reversal of the multi-decadal trends of the equatorial Pacific easterly winds, and the Indonesian Throughflow and Leeuwin Current transports. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L11604 (2011).

  7. 7.

    & Regional sea level trends due to a Pacific trade wind intensification. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L21605 (2011).

  8. 8.

    & Recent global-warming hiatus tied to equatorial Pacific surface cooling. Nature 501, 403–407 (2013).

  9. 9.

    , , , & Externally forced and internally generated decadal climate variability associated with the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. J. Clim. 26, 7298–7310 (2013).

  10. 10.

    , , , & A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 78, 1069–1079 (1997).

  11. 11.

    , , , & Inter-decadal modulation of the impact of ENSO on Australia. Clim. Dynam. 15, 319–324 (1999).

  12. 12.

    & An apparent hiatus in global warming? Earth’s Future 1, 19–32 (2013).

  13. 13.

    , & Indian Ocean warming modulates Pacific climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 18701–18706 (2012).

  14. 14.

    , , & Tropical Pacific response to 20th century Atlantic warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L03702 (2011).

  15. 15.

    An overlooked feature of tropical climate: Inter-Pacific-Atlantic variability. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L12702 (2006).

  16. 16.

    , & Predictable climate impacts of the decadal changes in the ocean in the 1990s. J. Clim. 26, 6329–6339 (2013); corrigendum 26, 9207 (2013)

  17. 17.

    , , , & Relationship between the Pacific and Atlantic stepwise climate change during the 1990s. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L21710 (2012).

  18. 18.

    & Interdecadal enhancement of the Walker circulation over the Tropical Pacific in the late 1990s. Adv. Atmos. Sci. 30, 247–262 (2013).

  19. 19.

    & Impact of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation on North Pacific climate variability. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L23708 (2007).

  20. 20.

    , , & Climate responses in the tropical Pacific associated with Atlantic warming in recent decades. Asia-Pacific J. Atmos. Sci. 49, 209–217 (2013).

  21. 21.

    , , & Northern Hemispheric interdecadal variability: A coupled air-sea mode. J. Clim. 11, 1906–1931 (1998).

  22. 22.

    , , , & An improved in situ and satellite SST analysis for climate. J. Clim. 15, 1609–1625 (2002).

  23. 23.

    et al. NCEP-DOE AMIP-II reanalysis (R-2). Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 83, 1631–1643 (2002).

  24. 24.

    et al. The Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 1–28 (2011).

  25. 25.

    , & An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

  26. 26.

    et al. The mean climate of the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM4) in forced SST and fully coupled experiments. J. Clim. 26, 5150–5168 (2013).

  27. 27.

    , , , & A new sea surface temperature and sea ice boundary dataset for the Community Atmosphere Model. J. Clim. 21, 5145–5153 (2008).

  28. 28.

    , , & The climate sensitivity of the Community Climate System Model version 3 (CCSM3). J. Clim. 19, 2584–2596 (2006).

  29. 29.

    , , & Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys. 48, RG4004 (2010).

  30. 30.

    et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: Configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC), including the ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate System Science. A.T. was supported through NSF grant No. 1049219. M.F.S. and F-F.J. were supported by US NSF grant ATM1034798, US Department of Energy grant DESC005110 and US NOAA grant NA10OAR4310200. The AVISO altimeter products were produced by the CLS Space Oceanography Division as part of the Environment and Climate EU ENACT project (EVK2-CT2001-00117) and with support from CNES.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia

    • Shayne McGregor
    •  & Matthew H. England
  2. International Pacific Research Center, SOEST, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Axel Timmermann
    •  & Yoshimitsu Chikamoto
  3. Department of Meteorology, SOEST, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Malte F. Stuecker
    •  & Fei-Fei Jin
  4. Department of Oceanography, SOEST, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Mark Merrifield

Authors

  1. Search for Shayne McGregor in:

  2. Search for Axel Timmermann in:

  3. Search for Malte F. Stuecker in:

  4. Search for Matthew H. England in:

  5. Search for Mark Merrifield in:

  6. Search for Fei-Fei Jin in:

  7. Search for Yoshimitsu Chikamoto in:

Contributions

S.M. and A.T. conceived the study and wrote the initial manuscript draft. A.T. analysed observational and CMIP5 data, M.F.S. conducted the AGCM and partially coupled model simulations, S.M. analysed the model output and the AMIP5 simulations. All authors contributed to interpreting the results, discussion of the associated dynamics, and refinement of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Axel Timmermann.

Supplementary information

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2330