Recent Walker circulation strengthening and Pacific cooling amplified by Atlantic warming

Shayne McGregor, Axel Timmermann, Malte F Stuecker, Matthew Heathcote England, Mark Merrifield, Fei-Fei Jin, Yoshimitsu Chikamoto

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An unprecedented strengthening of Pacific trade winds since the late 1990s (ref. 1) has caused widespread climate perturbations, including rapid sea-level rise in the western tropical Pacific2-5, strengthening of Indo-Pacific ocean currents6,7, and an increased uptake of heat in the equatorial Pacific thermocline1. The corresponding intensification of the atmospheric Walker circulation is also associated with sea surface cooling in the eastern Pacific, which has been identified as one of the contributors to the current pause in global surface warming1,8,9. In spite of recent progress in determining the climatic impacts of the Pacific trade wind acceleration, the cause of this pronounced trend in atmospheric circulation remains unknown. Here we analyse a series of climate model experiments along with observational data to show that the recent warming trend in Atlantic sea surface temperature and the corresponding trans-basin displacements of the main atmospheric pressure centres were key drivers of the observed Walker circulation intensification, eastern Pacific cooling, North American rainfall trends and western Pacific sea-level rise. Our study suggests that global surface warming has been partly offset by the Pacific climate response to enhanced Atlantic warming since the early 1990s. (c) 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888 - 892
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • decadal variation
  • decadal climate
  • climate prediction

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