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Atlantic-induced pan-tropical climate change over the past three decades

Atlantic warming generates anomalous atmospheric deep convection, mimicking the Gill convective model

Atlantic warming generates anomalous atmospheric deep convection, mimicking the Gill convective model

TitleAtlantic-induced pan-tropical climate change over the past three decades
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsLi X.C, Xie SP, Gille ST, Yoo C.
JournalNature Climate Change
Date Published2016/03
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1758-678X
Accession NumberWOS:000370964000016
Keywordscirculation; el-nino; equatorial; indian-ocean; model; north; pacific; sea-surface temperature; teleconnections; variability; warming hiatus

During the past three decades, tropical sea surface temperature (SST) has shown dipole-like trends, with warming over the tropical Atlantic and Indo-western Pacific but cooling over the eastern Pacific. Competing hypotheses relate this cooling, identified as a driver of the global warming hiatus(1,2), to the warming trends in either the Atlantic(3,4) or Indian Ocean(5). However, the mechanisms, the relative importance and the interactions between these teleconnections remain unclear. Using a state-of-the-art climate model, we show that the Atlantic plays a key role in initiating the tropical-wide teleconnection, and the Atlantic-induced anomalies contribute similar to 55-75% of the tropical SST and circulation changes during the satellite era. The Atlantic warming drives easterly wind anomalies over the Indo-western Pacific as Kelvin waves and westerly anomalies over the eastern Pacific as Rossby waves. The wind changes induce an Indo-western Pacific warming through the wind-evaporation-SST effect(6,7), and this warming intensifies the La Nina-type response in the tropical Pacific by enhancing the easterly trade winds and through the Bjerknes ocean dynamical processes(8). The teleconnection develops into a tropical-wide SST dipole pattern. This mechanism, supported by observations and a hierarchy of climate models, reveals that the tropical ocean basins are more tightly connected than previously thought.

Short TitleNat. Clim. Chang.

Although recent studies of the global warming hiatus have focused on the Pacific effect, consistent with earlier studies our results suggest that the hiatus may ultimately be traced back to the warming in the tropical Atlantic. This teleconnection is aided by Indo-western Pacific adjustments as revealed in this study. Together, these studies show that the three tropical ocean basins are linked more closely than previously thought, and on decadal timescales the tropical oceans should be considered as a single entity. In addition to the well-known ENSO-induced tropical-wide response that is dominant on interannual timescales, this study highlights the role of the tropical Atlantic in initiating a different pan-tropical dipole pattern that is important on decadal timescales.

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