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Contribution of natural decadal variability to global warming acceleration and hiatus


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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Masahiro Watanabe.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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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).

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