Intensification of El Nino Rainfall Variability Over the Tropical Pacific in the Slow Oceanic Response to Global Warming

TitleIntensification of El Nino Rainfall Variability Over the Tropical Pacific in the Slow Oceanic Response to Global Warming
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsZheng XT, Hui C., Xie SP, Cai W.J, Long S.M
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Volume46
Pagination2253-2260
Date Published2019/02
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0094-8276
Accession NumberWOS:000461855600039
Keywordsclimate response; CMIP5; enso amplitude; frequency; Geology; patterns; projections; sea-surface temperature; uncertainty
Abstract

Changes in rainfall variability of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are investigated under scenarios where the greenhouse gases increase and then stabilize. During the period of increasing greenhouse forcing, the ocean mixed layer warms rapidly. After the forcing stabilizes, the deeper ocean continues to warm the surface (the slow response). We show that ENSO rainfall variability over the tropical Pacific intensifies in both periods but the rate of increase per degree global mean surface temperature (GMST) warming is larger for the slow response because of greater relative warming in the base state as the mean upwelling changes from a damping to a driver of the surface warming. Our results have important implications for climate extremes under GMST stabilization that the Paris Agreement calls for. To stabilize GMST, the fast surface cooling offsets the slow warming from the prior greenhouse gas increase, while ENSO rainfall variability would continue to increase. Plain Language Summary The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global mean surface temperature increase to well below 2 degrees at the end of the 21st century. This requires the greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration to peak and subsequently decline in the next few decades. After the GHG concentration peak, the heat accumulated in the ocean surface layer continues to penetrate to the deeper ocean. This deeper ocean warming leads to a slow response of surface warming, further influencing the climate system. This study examines scenarios where GHGs increase and then stabilize to isolate the fast and slow responses of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) rainfall variability. We find intensification of ENSO rainfall variability both during the increase and after stabilization of GHG concentrations due to a persistent El Nino-like mean warming pattern in the tropical Pacific. Furthermore, for unit global mean surface temperature increase, the changes in the mean state temperature and ENSO rainfall variability in the eastern equatorial Pacific is larger during the slow response. These results imply that there is a need for GHG emission reduction in the near future to avoid more extreme tropical rainfall during El Nino.

DOI10.1029/2018gl081414
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