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Similar spatial patterns of climate responses to aerosol and greenhouse gas changes

Nature Geoscience volume 6, pages 828832 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Spatial variations in ocean warming have been linked to regional changes in tropical cyclones1, precipitation2,3 and monsoons4. But development of reliable regional climate projections for climate change mitigation and adaptation remains challenging5. The presence of anthropogenic aerosols, which are highly variable in space and time, is thought to induce spatial patterns of climate response that are distinct from those of well-mixed greenhouse gases4,6,7,8,9. Using CMIP5 climate simulations that consider aerosols and greenhouse gases separately, we show that regional responses to changes in greenhouse gases and aerosols are similar over the ocean, as reflected in similar spatial patterns of ocean temperature and precipitation. This similarity suggests that the climate response to radiative changes is relatively insensitive to the spatial distribution of these changes. Although anthropogenic aerosols are largely confined to the Northern Hemisphere, simulations that include aerosol forcing predict decreases in temperature and westerly wind speed that reach the pristine Southern Hemisphere oceans. Over land, the climate response to aerosol forcing is more localized, but larger scale spatial patterns are also evident. We suggest that the climate responses induced by greenhouse gases and aerosols share key ocean–atmosphere feedbacks, leading to a qualitative resemblance in spatial distribution.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the NSF (ATM-0854365), the National Basic Research Program of China (2012CB955600), the NOAA Climate Program Office (NA10OAR4310250), the China Scholarship Council and JAMSTEC.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0206, USA

    • Shang-Ping Xie
  2. Physical Oceanography Laboratory, Ocean University of China, Qingdao 266100, China

    • Shang-Ping Xie
  3. International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Shang-Ping Xie
    • , Bo Lu
    •  & Baoqiang Xiang
  4. Laboratory for Climate Studies, National Climate Center, China Meteorological Administration, Beijing 100081, China

    • Bo Lu
  5. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 10081, China

    • Bo Lu

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Contributions

S-P.X. and B.L. designed the study, conducted analysis and wrote the paper. They contributed equally. B.X. carried out the tropospheric temperature perturbation experiments.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shang-Ping Xie.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1931

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