In 2013/14 eastern South America experienced one of its worst droughts. At the same time an unprecedented marine heatwave developed in the western South Atlantic. The drought was linked to suppression of the South Atlantic convergence zone and its associated rainfall, which led to water shortages in Brazil and impacted food supplies globally. Here we show from observations that such droughts and adjacent marine heatwaves have a common remote cause. Atmospheric blocking triggered by tropical convection in the Indian and Pacific oceans can cause persistent anticyclonic circulation that not only leads to severe drought but also generates marine heatwaves in the adjacent ocean. We show that increased shortwave radiation due to reduced cloud cover and reduced ocean heat loss from weaker winds are the main contributors to the establishment of marine heatwaves in the region. The proposed mechanism, which involves droughts, extreme air temperature over land and atmospheric blocking explains approximately 60% of the marine heatwave events in the western South Atlantic. We also identified an increase in frequency, duration, intensity and extension of marine heatwave events over the satellite period 1982–2016. Moreover, surface primary production was reduced during these events with implications for regional fisheries.
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The SST and atmospheric data used in this work are freely available from www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/data/gridded/data.noaa.oisst.v2.highres.html and http://apps.ecmwf.int/datasets/data/interim-full-daily/levtype=sfc/, respectively. The precipitation and OLR data are provided freely at www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/data/gridded/. The ocean colour data are also freely available from https://oceancolor.gsfc.nasa.gov. OSCAR currents are available from https://podaac.jpl.nasa.gov/dataset/OSCAR_ L4_OC_third-deg. Surface turbulent heat fluxes from OAFlux were obtained from http://oaflux.whoi.edu/data.html. The SARAH-2 SWR data are available from https://wui.cmsaf.eu/safira/action/viewDoiDetails?acronym=SARAH_V002_01. Ocean data from ORAS4 are available from www.ecmwf.int/en/research/climate-reanalysis/ocean-reanalysis.
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R.R.R. is supported by CNPq (no. 401873/2016-1) and CAPES (no. 88881.145866/2017-1). A.S. and A.S.T. (FT160100495) are supported by the Australian Research Council. This work is part of the research conducted by the Programmes INCT-MCII (CNPq no. 465501/2014-1 and CAPES/FAPS no. 16/2014) and Rede CLIMA (FINEP no. 01.13.0353-00). G.R.F. was supported by base funds to NOAA/AOML.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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