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Recent poleward shift of tropical cyclone formation linked to Hadley cell expansion


Recent research indicates that the annual-mean locations of tropical cyclones have migrated toward higher latitudes. Concurrently, an anthropogenically forced tropical expansion has been observed, yet the connection between the two processes remains little-explored. Here, using observational and reanalysis data, we investigate how large-scale dynamical effects, combined with coherent changes in the regional Hadley circulation, explain recent changes in regional tropical cyclone genesis over 1980–2014. We show that the recent anomalous upper-level weakening of the rising branch of the Hadley circulation in the deep tropics, possibly induced by the increased vertical stability, has likely suppressed the low-latitude tropical cyclone genesis in most ocean basins via anomalous large-scale subsidence. Regional Hadley circulation variations have also favoured a poleward displacement of tropical-cyclone-favourable climate conditions through poleward shift of the Hadley circulation’s meridional extent. With projections indicating continued tropical expansion, these results indicate that tropical cyclone genesis will also continue to shift poleward, potentially increasing tropical-cyclone-related hazards in higher-latitude regions.

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Fig. 1: Relationship between tropical SST anomaly and atmospheric dry static stability (in the deep tropics) and annual TCG frequency in a recent 35-year period.
Fig. 2: Epochal changes in TCG and large-scale climate conditions as a function of latitude over the five major ocean basins.
Fig. 3: Observed streamfunction (ψ) of the zonal-mean meridional overturning circulation.
Fig. 4: Meridional-vertical structure of the regional Hadley circulation during peak TC seasons over individual basins.
Fig. 5

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This research was funded through the Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP150102272) and partially through the Earth System and Climate Change Hub of the Australian government’s National Environmental Science Programme. The authors thank J. P. Kossin for his critical comments and valuable suggestions that improved the quality of the paper. S.S. acknowledges K. Emanuel (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), S. Camargo (Columbia University) and H. Hendon (Bureau of Meteorology) for valuable discussions. The assistance of resources from the National Computational Infrastructure supported by the Australian Government and the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling for available model output are duly acknowledged.

Author contributions

S.S. conceived the study and performed the analysis in discussion with K.J.E.W. Both the authors discussed the results and jointly contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to S. Sharmila.

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Supplementary table 1, Supplementary figures 1-8

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Sharmila, S., Walsh, K.J.E. Recent poleward shift of tropical cyclone formation linked to Hadley cell expansion. Nature Clim Change 8, 730–736 (2018).

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