During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Earth’s surface warmed more slowly than climate models simulated1. This surface-warming hiatus is attributed by some studies to model errors in external forcing2,3,4, while others point to heat rearrangements in the ocean5,6,7,8,9,10 caused by internal variability, the timing of which cannot be predicted by the models1. However, observational analyses disagree about which ocean region is responsible11,12,13,14,15,16. Here we show that the hiatus could also have been caused by internal variability in the top-of-atmosphere energy imbalance. Energy budgeting for the ocean surface layer over a 100-member historical ensemble reveals that hiatuses are caused by energy-flux deviations as small as 0.08 W m−2, which can originate at the top of the atmosphere, in the ocean, or both. Budgeting with existing observations cannot constrain the origin of the recent hiatus, because the uncertainty in observations dwarfs the small flux deviations that could cause a hiatus. The sensitivity of these flux deviations to the observational dataset and to energy budget choices helps explain why previous studies conflict, and suggests that the origin of the recent hiatus may never be identified.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Climate Dynamics Open Access 29 May 2021
Climate Dynamics Open Access 17 April 2020
Journal of Statistical Physics Open Access 05 December 2019
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to Nature and 55 other Nature journal
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Flato, G. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 741–866 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Solomon, S. et al. The persistently variable ‘background’ stratospheric aerosol layer and global climate change. Science 333, 866–870 (2011).
Santer, B. D. et al. Volcanic contribution to decadal changes in tropospheric temperature. Nat. Geosci. 7, 185–189 (2014).
Kopp, G. & Lean, J. L. A new, lower value of total solar irradiance: evidence and climate significance. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L01706 (2011).
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. Nat. Clim. Change 1, 360–364 (2011).
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).
Guemas, V., Doblas-Reyes, F. J., Andreu-Burillo, I. & Asif, M. Retrospective prediction of the global warming slowdown in the past decade. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 649–653 (2013).
Watanabe, M. et al. Strengthening of ocean heat uptake efficiency associated with the recent climate hiatus. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3175–3179 (2013).
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).
Katsman, C. A. & van Oldenborgh, G. J. Tracing the upper ocean’s ‘missing heat’. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L14610 (2011).
Drijfhout, S. S. et al. Surface warming hiatus caused by increased heat uptake across multiple ocean basins. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 7868–7874 (2014).
England, M. H. et al. Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 222–227 (2014).
Chen, X. & Tung, K.-K. Varying planetary heat sink led to global-warming slowdown and acceleration. Science 345, 897–903 (2014).
Nieves, V., Willis, J. K. & Patzert, W. C. Recent hiatus caused by decadal shift in Indo-Pacific heating. Science 349, 532–535 (2015).
Lee, S.-K. et al. Pacific origin of the abrupt increase in Indian Ocean heat content during the warming hiatus. Nat. Geosci. 8, 445–449 (2015).
Liu, W., Xie, S.-P. & Lu, J. Tracking ocean heat uptake during the surface warming hiatus. Nat. Commun. 7, 10926 (2016).
Cowtan, K. & Way, R. G. Coverage bias in the HadCRUT4 temperature series and its impact on recent temperature trends. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 140, 1935–1944 (2014).
Karl, T. R. et al. Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus. Science 348, 1469–1472 (2015).
Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).
Giorgetta, M. A. et al. Climate and carbon cycle changes from 1850 to 2100 in MPI-ESM simulations for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5. J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst. 5, 572–597 (2013).
Smith, D. M. et al. Earth’s energy imbalance since 1960 in observations and CMIP5 models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 1205–1213 (2015).
Levitus, S. et al. World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000 m), 1955–2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10603 (2012).
Trenberth, K. E., Fasullo, J. T. & Balmaseda, M. A. Earth’s energy imbalance. J. Clim. 27, 3129–3144 (2014).
Palmer, M. D. & McNeall, D. J. Internal variability of Earth’s energy budget simulated by CMIP5 climate models. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 034016 (2014).
Baker, M. B. & Roe, G. H. The shape of things to come: why is climate change so predictable? J. Clim. 22, 4574–4589 (2009).
Geoffroy, O. et al. Transient climate response in a two-layer energy-balance model. Part I: analytical solution and parameter calibration using CMIP5 AOGCM experiments. J. Clim. 26, 1841–1857 (2013).
Brown, P. T., Li, W., Li, L. & Ming, Y. Top-of-atmosphere radiative contribution to unforced decadal global temperature variability in climate models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 5175–5183 (2014).
Byrne, P. B. & O’Gorman, P. A. Land-ocean warming contrast over a wide range of climates: convective quasi-equilibrium theory and idealized simulations. J. Clim. 26, 4000–4016 (2013).
Stephens, G. L. et al. The albedo of Earth. Rev. Geophys. 53, 141–163 (2015).
Trenberth, K. E. & Fasullo, J. T. An apparent hiatus in global warming? Earth’s Future 1, 19–32 (2013).
Loeb, N. G. et al. Toward optimal closure of the Earth’s top-of-atmosphere radiation budget. J. Clim. 22, 748–766 (2009).
Johnson, G. C., Lyman, J. M. & Loeb, N. G. Improving estimates of Earth’s energy imbalance. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 639–640 (2016).
Marotzke, J. & Forster, P. M. Forcing, feedback and internal variability in global temperature trends. Nature 517, 565–570 (2015).
Mauritsen, T. et al. Tuning the climate of a global model. J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst. 4, M00A01 (2012).
Jungclaus, J. et al. CMIP5 Simulations of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M) Based on the MPI-ESM-LR model: The Decadal2000 Experiment, Served by ESGF (World Data Center for Climate at DKRZ, 2013); http://dx.doi.org/10.1594/WDCC/CMIP5.MXEL00
Purkey, S. G. & Johnson, G. C. Warming of global abyssal and deep Southern Ocean waters between the 1990s and 2000s: contributions to global heat and sea level rise budgets. J. Clim. 23, 6336–6351 (2010).
Hartmann, D. L. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 2SM-1–2SM-30 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Santer, B. D. et al. Consistency of modelled and observed temperature trends in the tropical troposphere. Int. J. Climatol. 28, 1703–1722 (2008).
Sen Gupta, A., Jourdain, N. C., Brown, J. N. & Monselesan, D. Climate drift in the CMIP5 models. J. Clim. 26, 8597–8615 (2013).
Allan, R. P. et al. Changes in global net radiative imbalance 1985–2012. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 5588–5598 (2014).
This work is supported by the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science through the International Max Planck Research School on Earth System Modelling (IMPRS-ESM). J.J. acknowledges support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 633211). We thank H. Haak for his technical assistance, H. Zuo and D. Peterson for providing the NEMO grid configuration, and B. Stevens and C. Li for their comments on the manuscript. We are indebted to L. Kornblueh for producing the large historical ensemble and to T. Schulthess and the Swiss National Computing Centre (CSCS) for providing the necessary computational resources. Thanks also to J. Kröger for producing the RCP4.5 extensions with the Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum (DKRZ) facilities.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Hedemann, C., Mauritsen, T., Jungclaus, J. et al. The subtle origins of surface-warming hiatuses. Nature Clim Change 7, 336–339 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3274
This article is cited by
Climate Dynamics (2021)
Climate Dynamics (2020)
Climate Dynamics (2020)
Journal of Statistical Physics (2020)
New insights into natural variability and anthropogenic forcing of global/regional climate evolution
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science (2019)