Identifying and Investigating the Late-1960s Interhemispheric SST Shift

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Andrew Ronald Friedman, Institut Pierre Simon Laplace - IPSL / LOCEAN, Paris, France, Shih-Yu Lee, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, Yuwei Liu, Stanford University, Earth Sciences, Stanford, CA, United States and John C H Chiang, Univ California, Berkeley, CA, United States
The global north–south interhemispheric sea surface temperature (SST) difference experienced a pronounced and rapid decrease in the late 1960s, which has been linked to drying in the Sahel, South Asia, and East Asia. However, some basic questions about the interhemispheric SST shift remain unresolved, including its scale and whether the constituent changes in different basins were coordinated. In this study, we systematically investigate the spatial and temporal behavior of the late-1960s interhemispheric SST shift using ocean surface and subsurface observations. We also evaluate potential mechanisms using control and specific-forcing CMIP5 simulations.

Using a regime shift detection technique, we identify the late-1960s shift as the most prominent in the historical observational SST record. We additionally examine the corresponding changes in upper-ocean heat content and salinity associated with the shift. We find that there were coordinated upper-ocean cooling and freshening in the subpolar North Atlantic, the region of the largest-magnitude SST decrease during the interhemispheric shift. These upper-ocean changes correspond to a weakened North Atlantic thermohaline circulation (THC). However, the THC decrease does not fully account for the rapid global interhemispheric SST shift, particularly the warming in the extratropical Southern Hemisphere.