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Global warming may drive more active La Niña pattern

Broad tree-ring record provides accurate ENSO history

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Researchers say tree ring records show that El Niño activity during the 20th century has largely been outside the range of natural variability.

By Summit Voice

Climate scientists have long suspected that global warming has an influence on the Pacific Ocean El Niño- La Niña cycle (El Niño-Southern Oscillation), but instrumental records tracking the shift between above- and below average sea surface temperatures don’t go back far enough to provide context for any recent changes in the pattern.

But scientists working at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa say a new tree ring record extending back about 700 years has helped decipher long-term trends. The tree ring samples from both the tropics and mid-latitudes in both hemispheres support the idea that the unusually high ENSO activity in the late 20th century is a footprint of global warming said Jinbao Li, lead author of the study published online in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Many climate models do not reflect the strong ENSO response to global warming that we found,” said co-author Shang-Ping Xie, meteorology professor at the International Pacific Research Center. “This suggests that many models underestimate the sensitivity to radiative perturbations in greenhouse gases. Our results now provide a guide to improve the accuracy of climate models and their projections of future ENSO activity. If this trend of increasing ENSO activity continues, we expect to see more weather extremes such as floods and droughts.”

The inclusion of tropical tree-ring records enabled the team to generate an accurate archive of ENSO activity, matched with records from equatorial Pacific corals and with an independent Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstruction that captures well-known teleconnection climate patterns.

These proxy records all indicate that ENSO was unusually active in the late 20th century compared to the past seven centuries, implying that this climate phenomenon is responding to ongoing global warming.

“In the year after a large tropical volcanic eruption, our record shows that the east-central tropical Pacific is unusually cool, followed by unusual warming one year later. Like greenhouse gases, volcanic aerosols perturb the Earth’s radiation balance. This supports the idea that the unusually high ENSO activity in the late 20th century is a footprint of global warming” said lead author Jinbao Li.

 

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6 Responses

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