Climate Dynamics

, Volume 50, Issue 3–4, pp 1471–1484 | Cite as

Model under-representation of decadal Pacific trade wind trends and its link to tropical Atlantic bias

  • Jules B. Kajtar
  • Agus Santoso
  • Shayne McGregor
  • Matthew H. England
  • Zak Baillie


The strengthening of the Pacific trade winds in recent decades has been unmatched in the observational record stretching back to the early twentieth century. This wind strengthening has been connected with numerous climate-related phenomena, including accelerated sea-level rise in the western Pacific, alterations to Indo-Pacific ocean currents, increased ocean heat uptake, and a slow-down in the rate of global-mean surface warming. Here we show that models in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 underestimate the observed range of decadal trends in the Pacific trade winds, despite capturing the range in decadal sea surface temperature (SST) variability. Analysis of observational data suggests that tropical Atlantic SST contributes considerably to the Pacific trade wind trends, whereas the Atlantic feedback in coupled models is muted. Atmosphere-only simulations forced by observed SST are capable of recovering the time-variation and the magnitude of the trade wind trends. Hence, we explore whether it is the biases in the mean or in the anomalous SST patterns that are responsible for the under-representation in fully coupled models. Over interannual time-scales, we find that model biases in the patterns of Atlantic SST anomalies are the strongest source of error in the precipitation and atmospheric circulation response. In contrast, on decadal time-scales, the magnitude of the model biases in Atlantic mean SST are directly linked with the trade wind variability response.


Pacific trade winds Decadal variability Walker circulation CMIP5 



This study was supported by the Australian Research Council. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP), and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making their model output available. We also acknowledge the observational reconstructions provided by the Hadley Centre (HadISST), NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD (Twentieth Century Reanalysis, ERSST and NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis), and ECMWF (ERA-20C).

Supplementary material

382_2017_3699_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (2.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 2217 KB)


  1. Chikamoto Y et al (2015) Skilful multi-year predictions of tropical trans-basin climate variability. Nat Commun 6:6869CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chikamoto Y, Mochizuki T, Timmermann A, Kimoto M, Watanabe M (2016) Potential tropical Atlantic impacts on Pacific decadal climate trends. Geophys Res Lett 43:7143–7151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Compo GP et al (2011) The twentieth century reanalysis project. Q J R Meteorol Soc 137:1–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Douville H, Voldoire A, Geoffroy O (2015) The recent global warming hiatus: what is the role of Pacific variability? Geophys Res Lett 42:880–888CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. England MH et al (2014) Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus. Nat Clim Chang 4:222–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. England MH, Kajtar JB, Maher N (2015) Robust warming projections despite the recent hiatus. Nat Clim Chang 5:394–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gill AE (1980) Some simple solutions for heat-induced tropical circulation. Q J R Meteorol Soc 106:447–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Graham NE, Barnett TP (1987) Sea surface temperature, surface wind divergence, and convection over tropical oceans. Science 238:657–659CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Henley BJ et al (2017) Spatial and temporal agreement in climate model simulations of the interdecadal Pacific oscillation. Environ Res Lett. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa5cc8 (at press) Google Scholar
  10. Huang B, Banzon VF, Freeman E, Lawrimore J, Liu W, Peterson TC, Smith TM, Thorne PW, Woodruff SD, Zhang H-M (2014) Extended reconstructed sea surface temperature version 4 (ERSST.v4): Part I. Upgrades and intercomparisons. J Clim 28:911–930CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Johnson NC, Xie S-P (2010) Changes in the sea surface temperature threshold for tropical convection. Nat Geosci 3:842–845CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kajtar JB, Santoso A, England MH, Cai W (2017) Tropical climate variability: interactions across the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. Clim Dyn 48:2173–2190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kalnay E et al (1996) The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull Amer Meteor Soc 77:437–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kociuba G, Power SB (2015) Inability of CMIP5 models to simulate recent strengthening of the walker circulation: Implications for projections. J Clim 28:20–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kucharski F, Kang IS, Farneti R, Feudale L (2011) Tropical Pacific response to 20th century Atlantic warming. Geophys Res Lett 38:L03702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kucharski F et al (2016a) Atlantic forcing of Pacific decadal variability. Clim Dyn 46:2337–2351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kucharski F et al (2016b) The teleconnection of the tropical Atlantic to Indo-Pacific sea surface temperatures on inter-annual to centennial time scales: a review of recent findings. Atmosphere (Basel) 7:29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. L’Heureux ML, Lee S, Lyon B (2013) Recent multidecadal strengthening of the Walker circulation across the tropical Pacific. Nat Clim Chang 3:571–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lau N-C, Nath MJ (1994) A modeling study of the relative roles of tropical and extratropical SST anomalies in the variability of the global atmosphere-ocean system. J Clim 7:1184–1207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lee S-K et al (2015) Pacific origin of the abrupt increase in Indian Ocean heat content during the warming hiatus. Nat Geosci 8:445–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Li X, Xie S-P, Gille ST, Yoo C (2016) Atlantic-induced pan-tropical climate change over the past three decades. Nat Clim Chang 6:275–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lin JL (2007) The double-ITCZ problem in IPCC AR4 coupled GCMs: Ocean–atmosphere feedback analysis. J Clim 20:4497–4525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Luo J-J, Sasaki W, Masumoto Y (2012) Indian Ocean warming modulates Pacific climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:18701–18706CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ma S, Zhou T (2016) Robust strengthening and westward shift of the tropical Pacific Walker circulation during 1979–2012: a comparison of 7 sets of reanalysis data and 26 CMIP5 models. J Clim 29:3097–3118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McGregor S et al (2014) Recent Walker circulation strengthening and Pacific cooling amplified by Atlantic warming. Nat Clim Chang 4:888–892CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mochizuki T, Kimoto M, Watanabe M, Chikamoto Y, Ishii M (2016) Inter-basin effects of the Indian Ocean on Pacific decadal climate change. Geophys Res Lett 43:7168–7175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Poli P et al (2016) ERA-20C: an atmospheric reanalysis of the 20th century. J Clim 29:4083–4097CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Power SB, Kociuba G (2011) What caused the observed twentieth-century weakening of the Walker Circulation? J Clim 24:6501–6514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rayner NA et al (2003) Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J Geophys Res 108:4407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Richter I, Xie SP, Behera SK, Doi T, Masumoto Y (2014) Equatorial Atlantic variability and its relation to mean state biases in CMIP5. Clim Dyn 42:171–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ruprich-Robert Y, Castruccio F, Msadek R, Yeager SG, Delworth TL, Danabasoglu G (2016) Assessing the climate impacts of the observed Atlantic Multidecadal Variability using the GFDL CM2 0.1 and NCAR CESM1 global coupled models. J Clim. doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0127.1 (at press) Google Scholar
  32. Sud YC, Walker GK, Lau K-M (1999) Mechanisms regulating sea-surface temperatures and deep convection in the tropics. Geophys Res Lett 26:1019–1022CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Takahashi C, Watanabe M (2016) Pacific trade winds accelerated by aerosol forcing over the past two decades. Nat Clim Chang 6:768–774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Toniazzo T, Woolnough S (2014) Development of warm SST errors in the southern tropical Atlantic in CMIP5 decadal hindcasts. Clim Dyn 43:2889–2913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vecchi GA, Soden BJ (2007) Global warming and the weakening of the tropical circulation. J Clim 20:4316–4340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Vecchi GA et al (2006) Weakening of tropical Pacific atmospheric circulation due to anthropogenic forcing. Nature 441:73–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Zhang C (1993) Large-scale variability of atmospheric deep convection in relation to sea surface temperature in the tropics. J Clim 6:1898–1913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zhang L, Karnauskas KB (2017) The Role of tropical interbasin SST gradients in forcing walker circulation trends. J Clim 30:499–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System ScienceSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Climate Change Research CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.College of Engineering, Mathematics, and Physical SciencesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  4. 4.School of Earth, Atmosphere and EnvironmentMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations