Reconciling opposing Walker circulation trends in observations and model projections

Journal: Nature Climate Change

Published: 2019-04-01

DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0446-4

Affiliations: 6

Authors: 6

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Research Highlight

Winds of change came naturally

© ftwitty/Getty

© ftwitty/Getty

Natural processes have intensified Pacific trade winds, according to a major reanalysis of climate models and observations.

The Pacific Walker circulation (PWC) is caused by warm air rising over land around the western Pacific and descending over oceans to the east. Climate models predict the PWC will weaken as the sea surface warms, but this goes against observations, which reveal the PWC has strengthened since the 1980s.

A team that included researchers from the Institute for Basic Science in Korea used surface observations, satellite data and multiple climate models to compare how human activities and natural processes affect the PWC. They found that natural decadal variability is behind the PWC strengthening, temporarily overshadowing a longer-term PWC weakening that could be associated with human activity.

Although natural processes currently dominate, the imprint of human activities may emerge within the next few decades.

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  1. Nature Climate Change 9, 405–412 (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41558-019-0446-4
Institutions Share
Division of Earth Science, IBS, South Korea 0.25
Pusan National University (PNU), South Korea 0.25
University of Miami (UM), United States of America (USA) 0.17
NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), United States of America (USA) 0.17
European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), Germany 0.17