Climate Dynamics

, Volume 47, Issue 9–10, pp 3157–3169 | Cite as

The roles of external forcing and natural variability in global warming hiatuses

  • Lei ZhangEmail author


Global mean surface temperature (GMST) rising has slowed down since late 1990s, which is referred to as the global warming hiatus. There was another global warming hiatus event during 1940s–1960s. The roles of the external forcing and the natural variability in both global warming hiatuses are explored, using EOF analysis. The first two leading EOF modes of the 5-year running mean global sea surface temperature (SST) reflect the global warming scenario (EOF1) and the interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO)-like natural variability (EOF2), respectively. In observation, PC2 was in its positive phase (eastern Pacific cooling) during 1940s–1960s, which contributed to the previous warming hiatus. In addition, GMST trends are found to be negative during late 1950s and 1960s in most of the CMIP5 historical runs, which implies that the external forcing also contributed to the pause in the GMST rising. It is further demonstrated that it is the natural radiative forcing (volcanic forcing) that caused the drop-down of GMST in 1960s. The current global warming hiatus has been attributed to the eastern Pacific cooling/enhanced Pacific trade winds. It is shown that the PC2 switched to its positive phase in late 1990s, and hence the IPO-like natural variability made a contribution to the slowdown of GMST rising in the past decade. It is also found that the EOF1 mode (global warming mode) of the observed SST features a smaller warming in tropical Pacific compared to the Indian Ocean and the tropical Atlantic. Such inter-basin warming contrast, which is attributed to the “ocean thermostat” mechanism, has been suggested to contribute to the intensification of Pacific trade winds since late 1990s as well. Global warming hiatuses are also found in the future projections from CMIP5 models, and the spatial pattern of the SST trends during the warming-hiatus periods exhibits an IPO-like pattern, which resembles the observed SST trends since late 1990s.


Global warming hiatus EOF analysis of global SST External forcing and natural variability 



I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the original manuscript. I acknowledge the World Climate Research Program’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and I thank the climate modeling groups for producing and making available their model outputs.

Supplementary material

382_2016_3018_MOESM1_ESM.docx (4.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 4172 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental SciencesUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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