North Pacific Decadal Variability and Climate Change in the IPCC AR4 Models

Author: Jason C. Furtado, E. Di Lorenzo, N. Schneider and N.A. Bond
June 15, 2011
Journal Article
Journal of Climate

Furtado, Jason C., Emanuele Di Lorenzo, Niklas Schneider, Nicholas A. Bond (2010). North Pacific Decadal Variability and Climate Change in the IPCC AR4 Models. J. Climate, 24, 3049–3067 doi: 10.1175/2010JCLI3584.1

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The two leading modes of North Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) and sea level pressure (SLP), as well as their connections to tropical variability, are explored in the 24 coupled climate models used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) to evaluate North Pacific decadal variability (NPDV) in the past [twentieth century; climate of the twentieth century (20C3M) scenario] and future [twenty-first century; Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) A1B scenario] climate. Results indicate that the two dominant modes of North Pacific oceanic variability, the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NPGO), do not exhibit significant changes in their spatial and temporal characteristics under greenhouse warming. However, the ability of the models to capture the dynamics associated with the leading North Pacific oceanic modes, including their link to the corresponding atmospheric forcing patterns and to tropical variability, is questionable.
The temporal and spatial statistics of the North Pacific Ocean modes exhibit significant discrepancies from observations in their twentieth-century climate, most visibly for the second mode, which has significantly more low-frequency power and higher variance than in observations. The dynamical coupling between the North Pacific Ocean and atmosphere modes evident in the observations is very strong in the models for the first atmosphere–ocean coupled mode, which represents covariability of the PDO pattern with the Aleutian low (AL). However, the link for the second atmosphere–ocean coupled mode, describing covariability of an NPGO-like SST pattern with the North Pacific Oscillation (NPO), is not as clearly reproduced, with some models showing no relationship between the two.
Exploring the tropical Pacific–North Pacific teleconnections reveals more issues with the models. In contrast with observations, the atmospheric teleconnection excited by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation in the models does not project strongly on the AL–PDO coupled mode because of the displacement of the center of action of the AL in most models. Moreover, most models fail to show the observational connection between El Niñ o Modoki–central Pacific warming and NPO variability in the North Pacific. In fact, the atmospheric teleconnections associated with El Nin˜ o Modoki in some models have a significant projection on, and excite the AL–PDO coupled mode instead. Because of the known links between tropical Pacific variability and NPDV, these analyses demonstrate that focus on the North Pacific variability of climate models in isolation from tropical dynamics is likely to lead to an incomplete view, and inadequate prediction, of NPDV.


Jason Furtado worked on this research while at School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology.