Synchronized tropical Pacific and extratropical variability during the past three decades


Internally generated decadal variability influences global mean surface temperature (GMST), inducing acceleration and slowdown of the warming rate under anthropogenic radiative forcing1,2,3,4. While tropical eastern Pacific variability is important for annual-mean GMST2,5,6,7,8, the cold ocean–warm land (COWL) pattern9,10 also contributes to continental temperature variability11,12,13 in the boreal cold season. Although the two contributors are physically independent10,12, here we show that, after the mid-1980s, their decadal components vary in phase by chance to strengthen internal GMST trends, contributing to the early 2000s slowdown and early 2010s acceleration. The synchronized tropical Pacific and COWL variability explains the striking seasonality of the recent slowdown and acceleration during which the GMST trend in the boreal cold season is markedly negative and positive, respectively. Climate models cannot simulate the exact timing of the tropical Pacific and COWL correlations because they are physically independent, random-phased modes of internal variability.

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Fig. 1: TEP–COWL synchronization.
Fig. 2: Observed Eurasian temperature trends independent of the TEP force.
Fig. 3: Modulations of TEP–COWL synchronization on internal GMST trends.
Fig. 4: Seasonal modulations of TEP–COWL synchronization on acceleration/slowdown events.

Data availability

GISTEMP is from; BEST is from; ERA–20C and ERA–Interim are from; CESM1 PI, HIST, POGA and GOGA runs have been obtained from the Earth System Grid (; CMIP5 data have been obtained from; CM2.1 PI, HIST and POGA runs are available upon request.

Code availability

The scripts used to produce the main figures, along with the code for the CM2.1 Pacific pacemaker experiment, are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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X.L. was supported by the national key research and development project of China (grant no. 2016YFA0601803), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 41925025 and U1606402) and the Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (grant no. 2017ASKJ01). J.-C.Y. was supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (grant no. 202013029) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 41806007). Y.Z. was supported by the China Scholarship Council (grant no. 201706330016). Y.K. was supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (‘the Integrated Research Program for Advancing Climate Models’ and ‘the Arctic Challenge for Sustainability’ projects), by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (grant nos. 18H01278, 19H01964 and 19H05703) and by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (Belmont Forum CRA ‘InterDec’). Z.L. was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 41806007).

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J.-C.Y., X.L., S.-P.X. and Y.Z. conceived the analysis. J.-C.Y. performed the data analysis and prepared all figures. Y.K. ran CM2.1 simulations. Z.L. processed CMIP5 data. All authors wrote and reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Xiaopei Lin.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–10 and Table 1.

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Yang, JC., Lin, X., Xie, SP. et al. Synchronized tropical Pacific and extratropical variability during the past three decades. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 422–427 (2020).

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