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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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).

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Correspondence to Jules B. Kajtar.

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Kajtar, J.B., Santoso, A., McGregor, S. et al. Model under-representation of decadal Pacific trade wind trends and its link to tropical Atlantic bias. Clim Dyn 50, 1471–1484 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-017-3699-5

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Keywords

  • Pacific trade winds
  • Decadal variability
  • Walker circulation
  • CMIP5