Pacific Walker Circulation variability in coupled and uncoupled climate models
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There is still considerable uncertainty concerning twentieth century trends in the Pacific Walker Circulation (PWC). In this paper, observational datasets, coupled (CMIP5) and uncoupled (AGCM) model simulations, and additional numerical sensitivity experiments are analyzed to investigate twentieth century changes in the PWC and their physical mechanisms. The PWC weakens over the century in the CMIP5 simulations, but strengthens in the AGCM simulations and also in the observational twentieth century reanalysis (20CR) dataset. It is argued that the weakening in the CMIP5 simulations is not a consequence of a reduced global convective mass flux expected from simple considerations of the global hydrological response to global warming, but is rather due to a weakening of the zonal equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) gradient. Further clarification is provided by additional uncoupled atmospheric general circulation model simulations in which the ENSO-unrelated and ENSO-related portions of the observed SST changes are prescribed as lower boundary conditions. Both sets of SST forcing fields have a global warming trend, and both sets of simulations produce a weakening of the global convective mass flux. However, consistent with the strong role of the zonal SST gradient, the PWC strengthens in the simulations with the ENSO-unrelated SST forcing, which has a strengthening zonal SST gradient, despite the weakening of the global convective mass flux. Overall, our results suggest that the PWC strengthened during twentieth century global warming, but also that this strengthening was partly masked by a weakening trend associated with ENSO-related PWC variability.