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Atlantic and Pacific tropics connected by mutually interactive decadal-timescale processes


Decadal climate prediction presumes there are decadal-timescale processes and mechanisms that, if initialized properly in models, potentially provide predictive skill more than one or two years into the future. Candidate mechanisms involve Pacific decadal variability and Atlantic multidecadal variability, elements of which involve slow fluctuations of tropical Pacific and Atlantic sea surface temperatures (SSTs) from positive anomalies (positive phase) to negative anomalies (negative phase). Here we use model experiments to show that there tends to be a weak opposite-sign SST response in the tropical Pacific when observed SSTs are specified in the Atlantic, while there is a weak same-sign SST response in the tropical Atlantic when observed SSTs are specified in the tropical Pacific. Net surface heat flux in the Atlantic and ocean dynamics in the Pacific play contrasting roles in the ocean response to specified SSTs in the respective basins. We propose that processes in the Pacific and Atlantic are sequentially interactive through the atmospheric Walker circulation along with contributions from midlatitude teleconnections for the Atlantic response to the Pacific.

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Fig. 1: Mechanisms of Atlantic–Pacific connections.
Fig. 2: Atlantic–Pacific two-way leads/lags.
Fig. 3: Decadal Atlantic–Pacific interactions.
Fig. 4: Positive PDV and AMV trending positive to negative.
Fig. 5: Positive AMV and PDV trending positive to negative.

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HadISST data are available from The ERA-I data are available from ERSSTv4 data are available from

Code availability

Previous and current CESM versions are freely available at The CESM solutions/datasets used in this study are also freely available from the NCAR Digital Asset Services Hub (DASH) at or from the links provided from the CESM website at


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Portions of this study were supported by the Regional and Global Model Analysis (RGMA) component of the Earth and Environmental System Modeling Program of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Biological & Environmental Research (BER) via National Science Foundation IA 1947282. This work also was supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is a major facility sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Cooperative Agreement No. 1852977. F.C. was supported by the NSF under the Collaborative Research EaSM2 Grant OCE-1243015 and EaSM3 Grant OCE-1419569 and by the NOAA Climate Program Office under the Climate Variability and Predictability Program Grant NA13OAR4310138. J.M.A., M.H.E. and S.M. were supported by the Australian Research Council through grant CE110001028, while S.M. was also supported by the Australian Research Council through grant FT160100162. Computing resources ( were provided by the Climate Simulation Laboratory at NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

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G.A.M. directed this work with contributions from all authors. G.A.M., A.H. and F.C. performed the analyses. All of the authors discussed the results and contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Gerald A. Meehl.

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Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: James Super. Nature Geoscience thanks Mingfang Ting, Yu Kosaka and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Meehl, G.A., Hu, A., Castruccio, F. et al. Atlantic and Pacific tropics connected by mutually interactive decadal-timescale processes. Nat. Geosci. 14, 36–42 (2021).

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