Publications associated with Stratosphere and Climate


Slowdown of the Walker circulation at solar cycle maximum

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Sciences 116 (2019) 7186-7191

S Misios, L Gray, M Knudsen, C Karoff, H Schmidt, J Haigh

The Pacific Walker Circulation (PWC) fluctuates on interannual and multidecadal timescales under the influence of internal variability and external forcings. Here, we provide observational evidence that the 11-y solar cycle (SC) affects the PWC on decadal timescales. We observe a robust reduction of east–west sea-level pressure gradients over the Indo-Pacific Ocean during solar maxima and the following 1–2 y. This reduction is associated with westerly wind anomalies at the surface and throughout the equatorial troposphere in the western/central Pacific paired with an eastward shift of convective precipitation that brings more rainfall to the central Pacific. We show that this is initiated by a thermodynamical response of the global hydrological cycle to surface warming, further amplified by atmosphere–ocean coupling, leading to larger positive ocean temperature anomalies in the equatorial Pacific than expected from simple radiative forcing considerations. The observed solar modulation of the PWC is supported by a set of coupled ocean–atmosphere climate model simulations forced only by SC irradiance variations. We highlight the importance of a muted hydrology mechanism that acts to weaken the PWC. Demonstration of this mechanism acting on the 11-y SC timescale adds confidence in model predictions that the same mechanism also weakens the PWC under increasing greenhouse gas forcing.


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