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Distinct global warming rates tied to multiple ocean surface temperature changes


The globally averaged surface temperature has shown distinct multi-decadal fluctuations since 19001,2,3,4, characterized by two weak slowdowns in the mid-twentieth century and early twenty-first century and two strong accelerations in the early and late twentieth century. While the recent global warming (GW) hiatus has been particularly ascribed to the eastern Pacific cooling5,6, causes of the cooling in the mid-twentieth century and distinct intensity differences between the slowdowns and accelerations remain unclear7,8. Here, our model experiments with multiple ocean sea surface temperature (SST) forcing reveal that, although the Pacific SSTs play essential roles in the GW rates, SST changes in other basins also exert vital influences. The mid-twentieth-century cooling results from the SST cooling in the tropical Pacific and Atlantic, which is partly offset by the Southern Ocean warming. During the recent hiatus, the tropical Pacific-induced strong cooling is largely compensated by warming effects of other oceans. In contrast, during the acceleration periods, ubiquitous SST warming across all the oceans acts jointly to exaggerate the GW. Multi-model simulations with separated radiative forcing suggest diverse causes of the SST changes in multiple oceans during the GW acceleration and slowdown periods. Our results highlight the importance of multiple oceans on the multi-decadal GW rates.

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Figure 1: Observed annual-mean globally averaged surface temperature (GST) and land surface air temperature (SAT) anomalies.
Figure 2: Observed annual-mean merged land air temperature and ocean surface temperature (MLOST) trend patterns during the two acceleration and slowdown periods.
Figure 3: Near-surface temperature trends during the two acceleration and two slowdown periods.
Figure 4: Observed and CMIP5-simulated SST trends in the global ocean and six individual ocean basins.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41425019 and 41661144016), and the Public Science and Technology Research Funds Projects of Ocean (201505013). P.W. was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41375112). We thank the Max Plank Institute for Meteorology for providing the ECHAM5 atmospheric general circulation model, the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling for providing the CMIP multi-model data sets, S.-P. Xie, C. Chung and P. Reid for their helpful comments and/or discussions.

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S.-L.Y., J.-J.L. and G.H. conceived the research; J.-J.L. and S.-L.Y. designed the model experiments; S.-L.Y. and P.W. performed numerical simulations; S.-L.Y. performed the data analysis; J.-J.L. and S.-L.Y. wrote the paper; J.-J.L. and G.H. supervised this study.

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Correspondence to Jing-Jia Luo or Gang Huang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Yao, SL., Luo, JJ., Huang, G. et al. Distinct global warming rates tied to multiple ocean surface temperature changes. Nature Clim Change 7, 486–491 (2017).

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