Decadal modulation of global surface temperature by internal climate variability

TitleDecadal modulation of global surface temperature by internal climate variability
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsDai A, Fyfe JC, Xie S-P, Dai X
JournalNature Clim. Change
Volumeadvance online publication
Date Published2015/04
Type of ArticleLetter
ISBN Number1758-6798

Despite a steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs), global-mean surface temperature (T) has shown no discernible warming since about 2000, in sharp contrast to model simulations, which on average project strong warming1, 2, 3. The recent slowdown in observed surface warming has been attributed to decadal cooling in the tropical Pacific1, 4, 5, intensifying trade winds5, changes in El Niño activity6, 7, increasing volcanic activity8, 9, 10 and decreasing solar irradiance7. Earlier periods of arrested warming have been observed but received much less attention than the recent period, and their causes are poorly understood. Here we analyse observed and model-simulated global T fields to quantify the contributions of internal climate variability (ICV) to decadal changes in global-mean T since 1920. We show that the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) has been associated with large T anomalies over both ocean and land. Combined with another leading mode of ICV, the IPO explains most of the difference between observed and model-simulated rates of decadal change in global-mean T since 1920, and particularly over the so-called ‘hiatus’ period since about 2000. We conclude that ICV, mainly through the IPO, was largely responsible for the recent slowdown, as well as for earlier slowdowns and accelerations in global-mean T since 1920, with preferred spatial patterns different from those associated with GHG-induced warming or aerosol-induced cooling. Recent history suggests that the IPO could reverse course and lead to accelerated global warming in the coming decades.

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