Skip to main content

The global warming hiatus—a natural product of interactions of a secular warming trend and a multi-decadal oscillation


The globally-averaged annual combined land and ocean surface temperature (GST) anomaly change features a slowdown in the rate of global warming in the mid-twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century. Here, it is shown that the hiatus in the rate of global warming typically occurs when the internally generated cooling associated with the cool phase of the multi-decadal variability overcomes the secular warming from human-induced forcing. We provide compelling evidence that the global warming hiatus is a natural product of the interplays between a secular warming tendency due in a large part to the buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations, in particular CO2 concentration, and internally generated cooling by a cool phase of a quasi-60-year oscillatory variability that is closely associated with the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation (AMO) and the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO). We further illuminate that the AMO can be considered as a useful indicator and the PDO can be implicated as a harbinger of variations in global annual average surface temperature on multi-decadal timescales. Our results suggest that the recent observed hiatus in the rate of global warming will very likely extend for several more years due to the cooling phase of the quasi-60-year oscillatory variability superimposed on the secular warming trend.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


  • Balmaseda MA, Trenberth KE, Källén E (2013) Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content. Geophys Res Lett 40:1754–1759

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chowdary J, Xie S-P, Tokinaga H, Okumura YM, Kubota H, Johnson N, Zheng X-T (2012) Interdecadal variations in ENSO teleconnection to the Indo-Western Pacific for 1870–2007*. J Climate 25:1722–1744

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DelSole T, Tippett MK, Shukla J (2011) A significant component of unforced multidecadal variability in the recent acceleration of global warming. J Climate 24:909–926

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Easterling DR, Wehner MF (2009) Is the climate warming or cooling? Geophys Res Lett 36(8):19440–8007

  • Enfield DB, Mestas-Nuñez AM, Trimble PJ (2001) The Atlantic multidecadal oscillation and its relation to rainfall and river flows in the continental. US Geophys Res Lett 28:2077–2080

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foster G, Rahmstorf S (2011) Global temperature evolution 1979–2010. Environ Res Lett 6:044022

  • Fröhlich C (2012) Total solar irradiance observations. Surv Geophys 33:453–473

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guan B, Nigam S (2008) Pacific sea surface temperatures in the twentieth century: an evolution-centric analysis of variability and trend. J Climate 21:2790–2809

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guan B, Nigam S (2009) Analysis of Atlantic SST variability factoring interbasin links and the secular trend: clarified structure of the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. J Climate 22:4228–4240

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hansen J, Ruedy R, Sato M, Lo K (2010) Global surface temperature change. Rev Geophys 48:RG4004

  • Huang NE, Wu Z (2008) A review on Hilbert-Huang transform: method and its applications to geophysical studies. Rev Geophys 46:RG2006

  • Huang NE et al (1998) The empirical mode decomposition and the Hilbert spectrum for nonlinear and non-stationary time series analysis. Proc Roy Soc Lond Math Phys Eng Sci 454:903–995

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Izumo T, Lengaigne M, Vialard J, Luo J-J, Yamagata T, Madec G (2014) Influence of Indian Ocean dipole and Pacific recharge on following year’s El Niño: interdecadal robustness. Clim Dyn 42:291–310

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaufmann RK, Kauppi H, Mann ML, Stock JH (2011) Reconciling anthropogenic climate change with observed temperature 1998–2008. Proc Natl Acad Sci 108:11790–11793

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Knight JR, Allan RJ, Folland CK, Vellinga M, Mann ME (2005) A signature of persistent natural thermohaline circulation cycles in observed climate. Geophys Res Lett 32(20):1944–8007

  • Kosaka Y, Xie S-P (2013) Recent global-warming hiatus tied to equatorial Pacific surface cooling. Nature 501:403–407. doi:10.1038/nature12534

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Latif M et al (2004) Reconstructing, monitoring, and predicting multidecadal-scale changes in the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation with sea surface temperature. J Climate 17:1605–1614

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lean JL, Rind DH (2009) How will Earth’s surface temperature change in future decades? Geophys Res Lett 36:L15708

  • Li Y, Li J, Feng J (2012) A teleconnection between the reduction of rainfall in Southwest Western Australia and North China. J Clim 25:8444–8461

  • Li J, Sun C, Jin FF (2013) NAO implicated as a predictor of Northern Hemisphere mean temperature multidecadal variability. Geophys Res Lett 40:5497–5502

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mantua NJ, Hare SR (2002) The Pacific decadal oscillation. J Oceanogr 58:35–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mantua NJ, Hare SR, Zhang Y, Wallace JM, Francis RC (1997) A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 78:1069–1079

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meehl G et al. (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change:747–846

  • Meehl GA, Arblaster JM, Fasullo JT, Hu A, Trenberth KE (2011) Model-based evidence of deep-ocean heat uptake during surface-temperature hiatus periods. Nat Clim Chang 1:360–364

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mestas-Nuñez AM, Enfield DB (1999) Rotated global modes of non-ENSO sea surface temperature variability. J Climate 12:2734–2746

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morice CP, Kennedy JJ, Rayner NA, Jones PD (2012) Quantifying uncertainties in global and regional temperature change using an ensemble of observational estimates: the HadCRUT4 data set. J Geophys Res: Atmospheres (1984–2012). 117(D8):2156–2202

  • Polyakov IV, Alexeev VA, Bhatt US, Polyakova EI, Zhang X (2010) North Atlantic warming: patterns of long-term trend and multidecadal variability. Clim Dyn 34:439–457

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pyper BJ, Peterman RM (1998) Comparison of methods to account for autocorrelation in correlation analyses of fish data. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 55:2127–2140

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rayner N et al. (2003) Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J Geophys Res: Atmospheres (1984–2012), 108(D14):2156–2202

  • Semenov VA, Latif M, Dommenget D, Keenlyside NS, Strehz A, Martin T, Park W (2010) The impact of North Atlantic-Arctic multidecadal variability on Northern Hemisphere surface air temperature. J Climate 23:5668–5677

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith TM, Reynolds RW, Peterson TC, Lawrimore J (2008) Improvements to NOAA’s historical merged land-ocean surface temperature analysis (1880–2006). J Climate 21:2283–2296

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Solomon S, Rosenlof KH, Portmann RW, Daniel JS, Davis SM, Sanford TJ, Plattner G-K (2010) Contributions of stratospheric water vapor to decadal changes in the rate of global warming. Science 327:1219–1223

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Solomon S, Daniel J, Neely R, Vernier J-P, Dutton E, Thomason L (2011) The persistently variable “background” stratospheric aerosol layer and global climate change. Science 333:866–870

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swanson KL, Tsonis AA (2009) Has the climate recently shifted? Geophys Res Lett 36(6):1944–8007

  • Swanson KL, Sugihara G, Tsonis AA (2009) Long-term natural variability and 20th century climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci 106:16120–16123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thompson DW, Kennedy JJ, Wallace JM, Jones PD (2008) A large discontinuity in the mid-twentieth century in observed global-mean surface temperature. Nature 453:646–649

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thompson DW, Wallace JM, Kennedy JJ, Jones PD (2010) An abrupt drop in Northern Hemisphere sea surface temperature around 1970. Nature 467:444–447

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ting M, Kushnir Y, Seager R, Li C (2009) Forced and internal twentieth-century SST Trends in the North Atlantic*. J Climate 22:1469–1481

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Torres ME, Colominas MA, Schlotthauer G, Flandrin P (2011) A complete ensemble empirical mode decomposition with adaptive noise. In: Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP), 2011 I.E. International Conference on, 2011. IEEE, pp 4144–4147

  • Trenberth KE, Hurrell JW (1994) Decadal atmosphere–ocean variations in the Pacific. Clim Dyn 9:303–319

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trenberth KE, Shea DJ (2006) Atlantic hurricanes and natural variability in 2005. Geophys Res Lett 33:L12704

  • Trenberth KE, Fasullo JT, Branstator G, Phillips AS (2014) Seasonal aspects of the recent pause in surface warming. Nat Clim Chang 4:911–916

  • Watanabe M et al (2013) Strengthening of ocean heat uptake efficiency associated with the recent climate hiatus. Geophys Res Lett 40:3175–3179

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wu Z, Huang NE, Wallace JM, Smoliak BV, Chen X (2011) On the time-varying trend in global-mean surface temperature. Clim Dyn 37:759–773

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhang R, Delworth TL, Held IM (2007) Can the Atlantic Ocean drive the observed multidecadal variability in Northern Hemisphere mean temperature? Geophys Res Lett 34(2):1944–8007

Download references


We thank Weichen Tao, Guanhuan Wen, and Hainan Gong for the useful discussions and suggestions for this work. Thanks are also due to Shangfeng Chen and Dong Chen for their comments on a previous version of the manuscript. This work is supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (2012CB955604 and 2011CB309704), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA05090402), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41275083 and 91337105), and National Outstanding Youth Science Fund Project of China (41425019).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gang Huang.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yao, SL., Huang, G., Wu, RG. et al. The global warming hiatus—a natural product of interactions of a secular warming trend and a multi-decadal oscillation. Theor Appl Climatol 123, 349–360 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation
  • Empirical Mode Decomposition
  • Secular Trend
  • Intrinsic Mode Function
  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation Index