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

Xichen Li, Shang Ping Xie, Sarah T. Gille, Changhyun Yoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

345 Scopus citations


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, to the warming trends in either the Atlantic or Indian Ocean. 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 â 1/455-75% 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, and this warming intensifies the La Niña-type response in the tropical Pacific by enhancing the easterly trade winds and through the Bjerknes ocean dynamical processes. 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-279
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
X.L. was supported by the Scripps Postdoctoral Fellowship; S.-P.X. was supported by the NSF grant AGS-1305719; S.T.G. was supported by the NSF grant OCE-1234473. C.Y. was supported by the Korea Meteorological Administration Research and Development Program under Grant KMIPA 2015–6110. The HadISST sea surface temperature (SST) data were provided by the British Met Office, Hadley Centre. The Kaplan SST and ERSST data sets were provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory. The Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) data were provided by the World Climate Research Programme’s (WCRP) Global Energy and Water Exchanges Projects (GEWEX). Ishii subsurface temperature data were provided by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) CISL Data Research Archive. The ERA-Interim atmospheric reanalysis was provided by the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). We thank the WCRP Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for the CMIP multi-model ensemble. The Community Earth System Model, CESM, and its atmospheric component, CAM4, were made available by NCAR, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Science (BER) of the US Department of Energy (DOE). The idealized atmospheric model, GFDL dry dynamical core, was developed by NOAA at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). Computing resources were provided by Yellowstone high-performance computing (HPC) in NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, and by the HPC at New York University (NYU).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited.


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