A Satellite Era Warming Hole in the Equatorial Atlantic Ocean
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionJournal of Geophysical Research (JGR): Oceans. 2020, 125(4), e2019JC015834 10.1029/2019JC015834
Observations during the satellite era 1979–2018 only depict small sea surface temperature (SST) trends over the Equatorial Atlantic cold tongue region in boreal summer. This lack of surface warming of the cold tongue, termed warming hole here, denotes an 11% amplification of the mean SST annual cycle. The warming hole is driven by a shoaling of the equatorial thermocline, linked to increased wind stress forcing, and damped by the surface turbulent heat fluxes. The satellite era warming deficit is not unusual during the twentieth century—similar weak trends were also observed during the 1890s–1910s and 1940s–1960s. The tendency for surface cooling appears to reflect an interaction of external forcing, which controls the timing and magnitude of the cooling, with the intrinsic variability of the climate system. The hypothesis for externally forced modulation of internal variability is supported by climate model simulations forced by the observed time-varying concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and natural aerosols. These show that increased greenhouse forcing warmed the cold tongue and aerosols cooled it during the satellite era. However, internal variability, as derived from control integrations with fixed, preindustrial values of greenhouse gases and aerosols, can potentially cause larger cooling than observed during the satellite era. Large uncertainties remain on the relative roles of external forcing and intrinsic variability in both observations and coupled climate models.