The Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), the dominant year-round pattern of monthly North Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) variability, is an important target of ongoing research within the meteorological and climate dynamics communities and is central to the work of many geologists, ecologists, natural resource managers, and social scientists. Research over the last 15 years has led to an emerging consensus: the PDO is not a single phenomenon, but is instead the result of a combination of different physical processes, including both remote tropical forcing and local North Pacific atmosphere-ocean interactions, which operate on different time scales to drive similar PDO-like SST anomaly patterns. How these processes combine to generate the observed PDO evolution, including apparent regime shifts, is shown using simple autoregressive models of increasing spatial complexity. Simulations of recent climate in coupled GCMs are able to capture many aspects of the PDO, but do so based on a balance of processes often more independent of the tropics than is observed. Finally, it is suggested that the assessment of PDO-related regional climate impacts, reconstruction of PDO-related variability into the past with proxy records, and diagnosis of Pacific variability within coupled GCMs should all account for the effects of these different processes, which only partly represent the direct forcing of the atmosphere by North Pacific Ocean SSTs.
Subtropical western boundary currents are warm, fast-flowing currents that form on the western side of ocean basins. They carry warm tropical water to the mid-latitudes and vent large amounts of heat and moisture to the atmosphere along their paths, affecting atmospheric jet streams and mid-latitude storms, as well as ocean carbon uptake 1-4 . The possibility that these highly energetic currents might change under greenhouse-gas forcing has raised significant concerns 5-7 , but detecting such changes is challenging owing to limited observations. Here, using reconstructed sea surface temperature datasets and century-long ocean and atmosphere reanalysis products, we find that the post-1900 surface ocean warming rate over the path of these currents is two to three times faster than the global mean surface ocean warming rate. The accelerated warming is associated with a synchronous poleward shift and/or intensification of global subtropical western boundary currents in conjunction with a systematic change in winds over both hemispheres. This enhanced warming may reduce the ability of the oceans to absorb anthropogenic carbon dioxide over these regions. However, uncertainties in detection and attribution of these warming trends remain, pointing to a need for a long-term monitoring network of the global western boundary currents and their extensions.
Ocean-atmosphere interaction over the Northern Hemisphere western boundary current (WBC) regions (i.e., the Gulf Stream, Kuroshio, Oyashio, and their extensions) is reviewed with an emphasis on their role in basin-scale climate variability. SST anomalies exhibit considerable variance on interannual to decadal time scales in these regions. Low-frequency SST variability is primarily driven by basin-scale wind stress curl variability via the oceanic Rossby wave adjustment of the gyre-scale circulation that modulates the latitude and strength of the WBC-related oceanic fronts. Rectification of the variability by mesoscale eddies, reemergence of the anomalies from the preceding winter, and tropical remote forcing also play important roles in driving and maintaining the low-frequency variability in these regions. In the Gulf Stream region, interaction with the deep western boundary current also likely influences the low-frequency variability. Surface heat fluxes damp the low-frequency SST anomalies over the WBC regions; thus, heat fluxes originate with heat anomalies in the ocean and have the potential to drive the overlying atmospheric circulation. While recent observational studies demonstrate a local atmospheric boundary layer response to WBC changes, the latter's influence on the large-scale atmospheric circulation is still unclear. Nevertheless, heat and moisture fluxes from the WBCs into the atmosphere influence the mean state of the atmospheric circulation, including anchoring the latitude of the storm tracks to the WBCs. Furthermore, many climate models suggest that the large-scale atmospheric response to SST anomalies driven by ocean dynamics in WBC regions can be important in generating decadal climate variability. As a step toward bridging climate model results and observations, the degree of realism of the WBC in current climate model simulations is assessed. Finally, outstanding issues concerning oceanatmosphere interaction in WBC regions and its impact on climate variability are discussed.
Decadal wintertime variability in the North Pacific climate system observed over the last few decades is documented. The decadal sea surface temperature (SST) variability is found to be concentrated around two major oceanic fronts. The variability around the subtropical front, accompanied by the anomalous subtropical high, exhibits strong negative simultaneous correlation with the tropical SST variability, but that around the subarctic front does not. In fact, cooling around the subarctic front in the mid-1970s cannot be attributed to the influence through the atmosphere of tropical warming that occurred about two years later. During the coolest period around the subarctic front in the mid-1980s, the enhanced surface westerlies associated with the intensified Aleutian low seemed to reinforce the underlying SST anomalies. The westerlies tended to be substantially weaker during the warmest period around 1970. These findings are suggestive of self-maintaining mechanisms inherent to the northern North Pacific climate system for the decadal variability.
Observations indicate that midlatitude weather systems are organized into “storm tracks” near oceanic frontal zones with pronounced sea‐surface temperature (SST) gradients. A pair of atmospheric general circulation model experiments with zonally uniform SST profiles prescribed show that their observed collocation is not fortuitous. In one experiment, a storm track is anchored around a midlatitude SST front that maintains near‐surface thermal gradients and energizes eddies. Westerly momentum transport by eddies produces a well‐defined polar‐front jet along the front, even in winter when a subtropical jet stream intensifies. In the other experiment, removal of the SST front leads to a substantial weakening in eddy activity and the PFJ especially in winter. It also leads to a weakening of the annular mode —the dominant mode of westerly‐jet variability— and its notable structural distortion in winter. Though idealized, our experiments suggest the importance of midlatitude oceanic fronts for the tropospheric circulation and its variability.
SUMMARYConvective activity over the tropical western Pacific is known to influence the extratropical circulation over East Asia in the boreal summer in the form of teleconnection, called the 'Pacific-Japan (PJ) pattern', but its structure and dynamics have not yet been studied in depth. In this study, a composite analysis is performed for 32 monthly events of enhanced convection observed to the east of the Philippines. The composited monthly mean vorticity anomalies associated with the PJ pattern are elongated zonally with a distinct poleward tilt with height. This structure differs fundamentally from a combination of the first baroclinic mode in the tropics and the barotropic structure in midlatitudes, as has widely been accepted as a conceptual model of the PJ pattern. A waveactivity flux points polewards only in the lower troposphere, indicating that Rossby wave teleconnection occurs primarily through a low-level south-westerly jet. Those tilted anomalies over the western Pacific can effectively gain kinetic energy in the exits of the mean jet streams in the upper and lower troposphere and available potential energy (APE) in the presence of the vertically sheared jets. The enhanced convection can generate APE effectively, and the associated low-level anomalous circulation acts to increase moisture supply into the convective region while enhancing evaporation from the pre-warmed ocean surface. It is thus hypothesized that the PJ pattern may be regarded as a dynamical mode that can be effectively excited in the zonally asymmetric baroclinic mean flow associated with the Asian summer monsoon with an efficient self-sustaining mechanism through moist processes.
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