Saturday 22nd October 2016                 Change text size:

Global warming pause due to trade winds in the Pacific

Stephen Edgar via flickr

A new study has revealed that a slowdown in global warming was caused by unusual Pacific trade winds that trapped heat underwater. However, it says that once the phenomenon stops, the warming will accelerate.

The study, Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus, which was published in Nature, suggests that a slower rate of global warming since 2001 is due to strengthening Pacific trade winds over the past two decades.

These helped keep the Earth’s surface slightly cooler – between 0.1C and 0.2C, which explains the hiatus – but resulted in an increased subsurface ocean heat uptake.

Prof Matthew England, lead author and chief investigator at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, said, “The heat uptake is by no means permanent: when the trade wind strength returns to normal – as it inevitably will – our research suggests heat will quickly accumulate in the atmosphere. So global temperatures look set to rise rapidly out of the hiatus, returning to the levels projected within as little as a decade.”

In August last year, scientists argued that the cooling of tropical waters in the Pacific explained the global warming slowdown experienced since 1998. Another study suggested that there has been no pause in global warming, which had simply manifested itself in different ways instead.

Climate scientists have long understood that global average temperatures don’t rise in a continual upward trajectory, instead warming in a series of abrupt steps in between periods with more-or-less steady temperatures. Our work helps explain how this occurs,” England added.

We should be very clear: the current hiatus offers no comfort – we are just seeing another pause in warming before the next inevitable rise in global temperatures.”

Further reading:

Cooler Pacific temperatures explain slowdown in global warming

Global warming has not paused since 1998, says study

Rising carbon dioxide will amplify El Niño, say scientists

IPCC climate report: global temperatures likely to exceed 2C this century

‘Pause’ in global warming a result of gaps in data, finds new research

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