Climatic and volcanic forcing of tropical belt northern boundary over the past 800 years

Abstract

The position of the northern boundary of the tropical belt affects the hydroclimate of many arid and semi-arid regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Widening of the tropical belt since the 1970s has largely been attributed to anthropogenic forcing. However, the relative influence of natural drivers of tropical belt expansion and contraction before this time is poorly understood. Here we use data on tree-ring widths from five mid-latitude regions in the Northern Hemisphere to reconstruct the movement of the northern boundary of the early spring tropical belt over the past 800 years (ad 1203–2003). Our reconstruction explains 45% of the interannual variance in the latitudinal extent of the Hadley circulation, a metric of the position of the tropical belt boundary. We find that the tropical belt contracted (expanded) during positive (negative) phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation and Pacific North American teleconnection patterns. The tropical belt also contracted significantly following major volcanic events that injected sulfur into the stratosphere. The longest period of persistent tropical belt expansion occurred in the late sixteenth century, during one of the coldest periods of the Little Ice Age. Our results warn of potential socio-economic consequences of future variations in tropical belt width driven by natural climate variability or stratospheric aerosol injections, whether volcanic or artificial.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Influence of February to April HCEFMA on Northern Hemisphere climate variability.
Fig. 2: Reconstruction of the early spring northern boundary of the tropical belt.
Fig. 3: RHCEFMA response to ENSO and PNA extremes and to major volcanic events.
Fig. 4: Variability in the tropical belt northern boundary, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Pacific-North American (ad 1203–2003).

Data availability

The RHCEFMA will be housed at NOAA-Paleoclimatology/World Data Service for Paleoclimatology: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/study/25050. The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

References

  1. 1.

    Seidel, D. J., Fu, Q., Randel, W. J. & Reichler, T. J. Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate. Nat. Geosci. 1, 21–24 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Seager, R. & Vecchi, G. A. Greenhouse warming and the 21st century hydroclimate of southwestern North America. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 21277–21282 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Lucas, C., Timbal, B. & Nguyen, H. The expanding tropics: a critical assessment of the observational and modeling studies. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 5, 89–112 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Lucas, C. & Nguyen, H. Regional characteristics of tropical expansion and the role of climate variability. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120, 6809–6824 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Lu, J., Chen, G. & Frierson, D. M. W. Response of the zonal mean atmospheric circulation to El Niño versus global warming. J. Clim. 21, 5835–5851 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Allen, R. J., Norris, J. R. & Kovilakam, M. Influence of anthropogenic aerosols and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation on tropical belt width. Nat. Geosci. 7, 270–274 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Nguyen, H., Evans, A., Lucas, C., Smith, I. & Timbal, B. The Hadley circulation in reanalyses: climatology, variability, and change. J. Clim. 26, 3357–3376 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    D’Agostino, R. & Lionello, P. Evidence of global warming impact on the evolution of the Hadley circulation in ECMWF centennial reanalyses. Clim. Dyn. 48, 3047–3060 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Adam, O., Schneider, T. & Harnik, N. Role of changes in mean temperatures versus temperature gradients in the recent widening of the hadley circulation. J. Clim. 27, 7450–7461 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Hu, Y., Tao, L. & Liu, J. Poleward expansion of the Hadley circulation in CMIP5 simulations. Adv. Atmos. Sci. 30, 790–795 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Allen, R. J., Sherwood, S. C., Norris, J. R. & Zender, C. S. Recent Northern Hemisphere tropical expansion primarily driven by black carbon and tropospheric ozone. Nature 485, 350–354 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Wang, H., Xie, S.-P. & Liu, Q. Comparison of climate response to anthropogenic aerosol versus greenhouse gas forcing: distinct patterns. J. Clim. 29, 5175–5188 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Polvani, L. M., Waugh, D. W., Correa, G. J. P. & Son, S.-W. Stratospheric ozone depletion: the main driver of twentieth-century atmospheric circulation changes in the Southern Hemisphere. J. Clim. 24, 795–812 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Garfinkel, C. I., Waugh, D. W. & Polvani, L. M. Recent Hadley cell expansion: the role of internal atmospheric variability in reconciling modeled and observed trends. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 10824–10831 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Johanson, C. M. & Fu, Q. Hadley cell widening: model simulations versus observations. J. Clim. 22, 2713–2725 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Lu, J., Deser, C. & Reichler, T. Cause of the widening of the tropical belt since 1958. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L03803 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Brönnimann, S. et al. Southward shift of the northern tropical belt from 1945 to 1980. Nat. Geosci. 8, 969–974 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Davis, N. & Birner, T. On the discrepancies in tropical belt expansion between reanalyses and climate models and among tropical belt width metrics. J. Clim. 30, 1211–1231 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Davis, N. & Birner, T. Climate model biases in the width of the tropical belt. J. Clim. 29, 1935–1954 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Compo, G. P. et al. The twentieth century reanalysis project. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 1–28 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Oort, A. H. & Yienger, J. J. Observed interannual variability in the Hadley circulation and its connection to ENSO. J. Clim. 9, 2751–2767 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Nguyen, H. et al. Variability of the extent of the Hadley circulation in the southern hemisphere: a regional perspective. Clim. Dyn. 50, 129–142 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Horel, J. D. & Wallace, J. M. Planetary-scale atmospheric phenomena associated with the Southern Oscillation. Mon. Weather Rev. 109, 813–829 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Li, J. et al. El Niño modulations over the past seven centuries. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 822–826 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Liu, Y. et al. Recent enhancement of central Pacific El Niño variability relative to last eight centuries. Nat. Commun. 8, 15386 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Liu, Z. et al. Pacific North American circulation pattern links external forcing and North American hydroclimatic change over the past millennium. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 3340 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    D’Arrigo, R. & Wilson, R. On the Asian expression of the PDO. Int. J. Climatol. 26, 1607–1617 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Haigh, J. D., Blackburn, M. & Day, R. The response of tropospheric circulation to perturbations in lower-stratospheric temperature. J. Clim. 18, 3672–3685 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Sigl, M. et al. Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years. Nature 523, 543–549 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Robock, A. Volcanic eruptions and climate. Rev. Geophys. 38, 191–219 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Iles, C. E., Hegerl, G. C., Schurer, A. P. & Zhang, X. The effect of volcanic eruptions on global precipitation. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 8770–8786 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Wilson, R. et al. Last millennium Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures from tree rings. Part I: The long term context. Quat. Sci. Rev. 134, 1–18 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Luterbacher, J. & Pfister, C. The year without a summer. Nat. Geosci. 8, 246 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Emile-Geay, J., Seager, R., Cane, M. A., Cook, E. R. & Haug, G. H. Volcanoes and ENSO over the past millennium. J. Clim. 21, 3134–3148 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Clement, A. C., Seager, R., Cane, M. A. & Zebiak, S. E. An ocean dynamical thermostat. J. Clim. 9, 2190–2196 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Grove, J. The Little Ice Age (Methuen, London, 1988).

  37. 37.

    Mann, M. E. et al. Global signatures and dynamical origins of the Little Ice Age and medieval climate anomaly. Science 326, 1256–1260 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Denniston, R. F. Expansion and contraction of the Indo-pacific tropical rain belt over the last three millennia. Sci. Rep. 6, 34485 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Ridley, H. E. et al. Aerosol forcing of the position of the intertropical convergence zone since ad 1550. Nat. Geosci. 8, 195–200 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Lechleitner, F. A. et al. Tropical rainfall over the last two millennia: evidence for a low-latitude hydrologic seesaw. Sci. Rep. 7, 45809 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Stahle, D. W. et al. Tree-ring data document 16th century megadrought over North America. Eos Trans. AGU 81, 121–125 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Touchan, R., Akkemik, Ü., Hughes, M. K. & Erkan, N. May–June precipitation reconstruction of southwestern Anatolia, Turkey during the last 900 years from tree rings. Quat. Res. 68, 196–202 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Shen, C., Wang, W.-C., Hao, Z. & Gong, W. Exceptional drought events over eastern China during the last five centuries. Clim. Change 85, 453–471 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Stahle, D. W., Cleaveland, M. K., Blanton, D. B., Therrell, M. D. & Gay, D. A. The lost colony and Jamestown droughts. Science 280, 564 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Xoplaki, E. et al. Modelling climate and societal resilience in the eastern Mediterranean in the last millennium. Hum. Ecol. 46, 363–379 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Cai, W. et al. Increased frequency of extreme La Niña events under greenhouse warming. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 132–137 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Allen, R. J. & Ajoku, O. Future aerosol reductions and widening of the northern tropical belt. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 6765–6786 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Caldeira, K., Bala, G. & Cao, L. The science of geoengineering. Annu. Rev. Earth. Planet. Sci. 41, 231–256 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Ricke, K. L., Morgan, M. G. & Allen, M. R. Regional climate response to solar-radiation management. Nat. Geosci. 3, 537 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Jones, A. C. et al. Impacts of hemispheric solar geoengineering on tropical cyclone frequency. Nat. Commun. 8, 1382 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Studholme, J. & Gulev, S. Concurrent changes to Hadley circulation and the meridional distribution of tropical cyclones. J. Clim. 31, 4367–4389 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Donat, M. G. et al. Reanalysis suggests long-term upward trends in European storminess since 1871. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L14703 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J. & Lister, D. H. Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations—the CRU TS3.10 Dataset. Int. J. Climatol. 34, 623–642 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Trouet, V. & Van Oldenborgh, G. J. KNMI Climate Explorer: a web-based research tool for high-resolution paleoclimatology. Tree-Ring Res. 69, 3–13 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Rayner, N. A. et al. Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4407 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Zhang, Y., Wallace, J. M. & Battisti, D. S. ENSO-like interdecadal variability: 1900–93. J. Clim. 10, 1004–1020 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Mantua, N. J., Hare, S. R., Zhang, Y., Wallace, J. M. & Francis, R. C. A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 78, 1069–1079 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Trouet, V. A tree-ring based late summer temperature reconstruction (ad 1675–1980) for the Northeastern Mediterranean. Radiocarbon 56, S69–S78 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Frank, D., Esper, J. & Cook, E. R. On variance adjustments in tree-ring chronology development. Tree Rings Archaeol. Climatol. Ecol. TRACE 4, 56–66 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Cook, E. R., Meko, D. M., Stahle, D. W. & Cleaveland, M. K. Drought reconstructions for the continental United States. J. Clim. 12, 18 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Esper, J. et al. Long-term drought severity variations in Morocco. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L17702 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Briffa, K. R. et al. Fennoscandian summers from ad 500: temperature changes on short and long timescales. Clim. Dyn. 7, 111–119 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Jenkins, G. & Watts, D. Spectral analysis and its applications. Louvain Econ. Rev. 36, 554–554 (1970).

    Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Torrence, C. & Compo, G. P. A practical guide to wavelet analysis. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 79, 61–78 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Bunn, A. G. A dendrochronology program library in R (dplR). Dendrochronologia 26, 115–124 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Crowley, T. J. & Unterman, M. B. Technical details concerning development of a 1200 yr proxy index for global volcanism. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 5, 187–197 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Gao, C., Robock, A. & Ammann, C. Volcanic forcing of climate over the past 1500 years: an improved ice core-based index for climate models. J. Geophys. Res. 113, D23111 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Sigl, M. et al. A new bipolar ice core record of volcanism from WAIS Divide and NEEM and implications for climate forcing of the last 2000 years. J. Geophys. Res. Atmospheres 118, 1151–1169 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Plummer, C. T. et al. An independently dated 2000-yr volcanic record from Law Dome, East Antarctica, including a new perspective on the dating of the 1450s ce eruption of Kuwae, Vanuatu. Clim. Past 8, 1929–1940 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant AGS-1349942 and the NSF grant 1065790 from the Emerging Frontiers Section in the Division of Environmental Biology. R.A.S. is supported by the postdoctoral grant Juan de la Cierva-Formación-FJCI-2015-26848, from the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness. S.K. acknowledges the support of USDA-AFRI grant 2016-67003-24944. R.K.M. acknowledges support from NSF Ecosystems Program grant 1754430. R.V. is partially supported by the BNP-PARIBAS Foundation.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

V.T., R.V. and R.A.S. conceived and designed the research. R.A.S. led the analysis and figure preparation and wrote the manuscript, with major contributions by V.T. and H.N. H.N. provided the monthly Hadley circulation indices data for the northern hemisphere. S.K. and A.H. contributed to data analysis. N.K. provided tree-ring chronologies. V.T. and R.K.M. organized financial support. All authors contributed to scientific discussions and to the preparation of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Alfaro-Sánchez.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–7; Supplementary Tables 2–5.

Supplementary Data Set

Supplementary Tables 1, 6 and 7.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Alfaro-Sánchez, R., Nguyen, H., Klesse, S. et al. Climatic and volcanic forcing of tropical belt northern boundary over the past 800 years. Nature Geosci 11, 933–938 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0242-1

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter for a daily update on COVID-19 science.
Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing