Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Contribution of natural decadal variability to global warming acceleration and hiatus

Abstract

Reasons for the apparent pause in the rise of global-mean surface air temperature (SAT) after the turn of the century has been a mystery, undermining confidence in climate projections1,2,3. Recent climate model simulations indicate this warming hiatus originated from eastern equatorial Pacific cooling4 associated with strengthening of trade winds5. Using a climate model that overrides tropical wind stress anomalies with observations for 1958–2012, we show that decadal-mean anomalies of global SAT referenced to the period 1961–1990 are changed by 0.11, 0.13 and −0.11 °C in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, respectively, without variation in human-induced radiative forcing. They account for about 47%, 38% and 27% of the respective temperature change. The dominant wind stress variability consistent with this warming/cooling represents the deceleration/acceleration of the Pacific trade winds, which can be robustly reproduced by atmospheric model simulations forced by observed sea surface temperature excluding anthropogenic warming components. Results indicate that inherent decadal climate variability contributes considerably to the observed global-mean SAT time series, but that its influence on decadal-mean SAT has gradually decreased relative to the rising anthropogenic warming signal.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Observed and simulated change in global-mean surface temperature.
Figure 2: Leading mode of variability in the tropical Pacific wind stress anomalies.
Figure 3: Observed and simulated SAT change between 1990–1999 and 2001–2012.
Figure 4: Contribution of internal and external components to decadal-mean SAT anomalies relative to the 1961–1990 mean.

References

  1. Tollefson, J. The case of the missing heat. Nature 505, 276–278 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Trenberth, K. E. & Fasullo, J. T. An apparent hiatus in global warming? Earth’s Future 1, 19–32 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Fyfe, J. C., Gillett, N. P. & Zwiers, F. W. Overestimated global warming over the past 20 years. Nature Clim. Change 3, 767–769 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Kosaka, Y. & Xie, S-P. Recent global-warming hiatus tied to equatorial Pacific surface cooling. Nature 501, 403–407 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Easterling, D. R. & Wehner, M. F. Is the climate warming or cooling? Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L08706 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Kaufmann, R. K., Kauppi, H., Mann, M. L. & Stock, J. H. Reconciling anthropogenic climate change with observed temperature 1998–2008. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 11790–11793 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Solomon, S. et al. The persistently variable ‘background’ stratospheric aerosol layer and global climate change. Science 333, 866–870 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Santer, B. D. et al. Volcanic contribution to decadal changes in tropospheric temperature. Nature Geosci. 7, 185–189 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Loeb, N. G. et al. Observed changes in top-of-the-atmosphere radiation and upper-ocean heating consistent within uncertainty. Nature Geosci. 5, 110–113 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Domingues, C. M. et al. Improved estimates of upper-ocean warming and multi-decadal sea-level rise. Nature 453, 1090–1094 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Levitus, S. et al. World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000 m), 1955–2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10603 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Lyman, J. M. et al. Robust warming of the global upper ocean. Nature 465, 334–337 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gleckler, P. J. et al. Human-induced global ocean warming on multidecadal timescales. Nature Clim. Change 2, 524–529 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Balmaseda, M. A., Trenberth, K. E. & Källén, E. Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 1754–1759 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Watanabe, M. et al. Strengthening of ocean heat uptake efficiency associated with the recent climate hiatus. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3175–3179 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Meehl, G. A., Arblaster, J. M., Fasullo, J. T., Hu, A. & Trenberth, K. E. Model-based evidence of deep-ocean heat uptake during surface-temperature hiatus periods. Nature Clim. Change 1, 360–364 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Meehl, G. A., Hu, A., Arblaster, J. M., Fasullo, J. & Trenberth, K. E. Externally forced and internally generated decadal climate variability associated with the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. J. Clim. 26, 7298–7310 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Meehl, G. A., Hu, A. & Santer, B. D. The mid-1970s climate shift in the Pacific and the relative roles of forced versus inherent decadal variability. J. Clim. 22, 780–792 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Stott, P. A. et al. Detection and attribution of climate change: A regional perspective. WIREs Clim. Change 1, 192–211 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Watanabe, M. et al. Improved climate simulation by MIROC5: Mean states, variability, and climate sensitivity. J. Clim. 23, 6312–6335 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Ebita, A. et al. The Japanese 55-year Reanalysis ‘JRA-55’: An interim report. SOLA 7, 149–152 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Taylor, K. E. et al. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Meehl, G. A. et al. The WCRP CMIP3 multimodel dataset: A new era in climate change research. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 88, 1383–1394 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Schmidt, G. A., Shindell, D. & Tsigaridis, K. Reconciling warming trends. Nature Geosci. 7, 158–160 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Vecchi, G. A. et al. Weakening of tropical Pacific atmospheric circulation due to anthropogenic forcing. Nature 441, 73–76 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Tokinaga, H., Xie, S-P., Deser, C., Kosaka, Y. & Okumura, Y. Slowdown of the Walker circulation driven by tropical Indo-Pacific warming. Nature 491, 439–444 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Morice, C. P., Kennedy, J. J., Rayner, N. A. & Jones, P. D. Quantifying uncertainties in global and regional temperature change using an ensemble of observational estimates: The HadCRUT4 data set. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D08101 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Rayner, N. A. et al. Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4407 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Shiogama, H. et al. An event attribution of the 2010 drought in the South Amazon region using the MIROC5 model. Atmos. Sci. Lett. 14, 170–175 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Grant-in-Aid 26247079 and the Program for Risk Information on Climate Change (SOUSEI program) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.W. led the research and wrote the paper. M.W., H.S. and M.H. performed the experiments. H.T. and M.I. prepared part of the data and model. M.K. contributed to improving the analysis and interpretation. All the authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Masahiro Watanabe.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Watanabe, M., Shiogama, H., Tatebe, H. et al. Contribution of natural decadal variability to global warming acceleration and hiatus. Nature Clim Change 4, 893–897 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2355

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2355

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing