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Surging of Global Surface Temperature due to Decadal Legacy of Ocean Heat Uptake

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  • 1 National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom
  • 2 Laboratoire d’Océanographie Physique et Spatiale, Univ Brest CNRS IRD Ifremer, Brest, France, and Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom
  • 3 National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
  • 4 National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom
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Abstract

Global surface warming since 1850 has consisted of a series of slowdowns (hiatus) followed by surges. Knowledge of a mechanism to explain how this occurs would aid development and testing of interannual to decadal climate forecasts. In this paper a global climate model is forced to adopt an ocean state corresponding to a hiatus [with negative interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO) and other surface features typical of a hiatus] by artificially increasing the background diffusivity for a decade before restoring it to its normal value and allowing the model to evolve freely. This causes the model to develop a decadal surge that overshoots equilibrium (resulting in a positive IPO state), leaving behind a modified, warmer climate for decades. Water-mass transformation diagnostics indicate that the heat budget of the tropical Pacific Ocean is a balance between large opposite-signed terms: surface heating/cooling resulting from air–sea heat flux is balanced by vertical mixing and ocean heat transport divergence. During the artificial hiatus, excess heat becomes trapped just above the thermocline and there is a weak vertical thermal gradient (due to the high artificial background mixing). When the hiatus is terminated, by returning the background diffusivity to normal, the thermal gradient strengthens to prehiatus values so that the mixing (diffusivity × thermal gradient) remains roughly constant. However, since the base layer just above the thermocline remains anomalously warm, this implies a warming of the entire water column above the trapped heat, which results in a surge followed by a prolonged period of elevated surface temperatures.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Corresponding author address: Bablu Sinha, National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom. E-mail: bs@noc.ac.uk

Abstract

Global surface warming since 1850 has consisted of a series of slowdowns (hiatus) followed by surges. Knowledge of a mechanism to explain how this occurs would aid development and testing of interannual to decadal climate forecasts. In this paper a global climate model is forced to adopt an ocean state corresponding to a hiatus [with negative interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO) and other surface features typical of a hiatus] by artificially increasing the background diffusivity for a decade before restoring it to its normal value and allowing the model to evolve freely. This causes the model to develop a decadal surge that overshoots equilibrium (resulting in a positive IPO state), leaving behind a modified, warmer climate for decades. Water-mass transformation diagnostics indicate that the heat budget of the tropical Pacific Ocean is a balance between large opposite-signed terms: surface heating/cooling resulting from air–sea heat flux is balanced by vertical mixing and ocean heat transport divergence. During the artificial hiatus, excess heat becomes trapped just above the thermocline and there is a weak vertical thermal gradient (due to the high artificial background mixing). When the hiatus is terminated, by returning the background diffusivity to normal, the thermal gradient strengthens to prehiatus values so that the mixing (diffusivity × thermal gradient) remains roughly constant. However, since the base layer just above the thermocline remains anomalously warm, this implies a warming of the entire water column above the trapped heat, which results in a surge followed by a prolonged period of elevated surface temperatures.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Corresponding author address: Bablu Sinha, National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom. E-mail: bs@noc.ac.uk
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