Atmospheric controls on northeast Pacific temperature trends and variations, 1900-2012

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 3:16 PM
Nathan J Mantua, NOAA Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa, CA, United States and James A. Johnstone, University of Washington Seattle Campus, Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean, Seattle, WA, United States
Over the past century, northeast Pacific coastal sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and land-based surface air temperatures (SATs) display multidecadal variations associated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, in addition to a warming trend of ~0.5 to 1°C. Using independent records of sea-level pressure (SLP), SST and SAT, this study investigates NE Pacific coupled atmosphere-ocean variability from 1900 to 2012, with emphasis on the coastal areas around North America. We use a linear stochastic time series model to show that the SST evolution around the NE Pacific coast can be explained by a combination of regional atmospheric forcing and ocean persistence, accounting for 63% of nonseasonal monthly SST variance (r = 0.79) and 73% of variance in annual means (r = 0.86). We show that SLP reductions and related atmospheric forcing led to century-long warming around the NE Pacific margins, with strongest trends observed from 1910-20 to 1940. NE Pacific circulation changes are estimated to account for more than 80% of the 1900-2012 linear warming in coastal NE Pacific SST and US Pacific northwest (Washington, Oregon and northern California) SAT. An ensemble of climate model simulations run under the same historical radiative forcings fails to reproduce the observed regional circulation trends. These results suggest that natural, internally-generated changes in atmospheric circulation were the primary cause of coastal NE Pacific warming from 1900 to 2012, and demonstrate more generally that regional mechanisms of interannual and multidecadal temperature variability can also extend to century time scales.