Influence of anthropogenic aerosols and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation on tropical belt width

TitleInfluence of anthropogenic aerosols and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation on tropical belt width
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsAllen RJ, Norris J.R, Kovilakam M.
JournalNature Geoscience
Date Published2014/04
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1752-0894
Accession NumberWOS:000333815700012
Keywordsatmosphere; circulation; climate; expansion; reanalysis project

The tropical belt has widened by several degrees latitude since 1979, as evidenced by shifts in atmospheric circulation and climate zones(1-5). Global climate models also simulate tropical belt widening, but less so than observed (6, 7). Reasons for this discrepancy and the mechanisms driving the expansion are uncertain. Here we analyse multidecadal variability in tropical belt width since 1950 using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 climate model runs and find that simulated rates of tropical expansion over the past 30 yearsparticularly in the Northern Hemisphereare in better agreement with observations than previous models. We find that models driven by observed sea surface temperatures over this interval yield the largest rate of tropical expansion. We link the tropical expansion in the Northern Hemisphere to the leading pattern of sea surface temperature variability in the North Pacific, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. We also find, both from models and observations, that the tropical belt contracted in the Northern Hemisphere from 1950 to 1979, coincident with the reversal of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation trend. In both time periods, anthropogenic aerosols act to modify the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and therefore contribute to the width of the tropical belt. We conclude that tropical expansion and contraction are influenced by multidecadal sea surface temperature variability associated with both the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and anthropogenic aerosols.

Short TitleNat. Geosci.
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