Early twentieth-century warming linked to tropical Pacific wind strength

Diane M. Thompson, Julia E. Cole, Glen T. Shen, Alexander W. Tudhope, Gerald A. Meehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

34 Scopus citations

Abstract

Of the rise in global atmospheric temperature over the past century, nearly 30% occurred between 1910 and 1940 when anthropogenic forcings were relatively weak. This early warming has been attributed to internal factors, such as natural climate variability in the Atlantic region, and external factors, such as solar variability and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the warming is too large to be explained by external factors alone and it precedes Atlantic warming by over a decade. For the late twentieth century, observations and climate model simulations suggest that Pacific trade winds can modulate global temperatures, but instrumental data are scarce in the early twentieth century. Here we present a westerly wind reconstruction (1894-1982) from seasonally resolved measurements of Mn/Ca ratios in a western Pacific coral that tracks interannual to multidecadal Pacific climate variability. We then reconstruct central Pacific temperatures using Sr/Ca ratios in a coral from Jarvis Island, and find that weak trade winds and warm temperatures coincide with rapid global warming from 1910 to 1940. In contrast, winds are stronger and temperatures cooler between 1940 and 1970, when global temperature rise slowed down. We suggest that variations in Pacific wind strength at decadal timescales significantly influence the rate of surface air temperature change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-121
Number of pages5
JournalNature Geoscience
Volume8
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 17 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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