Early 20th-century Arctic warming intensified by Pacific and Atlantic multidecadal variability

Tokinaga, H, Xie SP, Mukougawa H.  2017.  Early 20th-century Arctic warming intensified by Pacific and Atlantic multidecadal variability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 114:6227-6232.

Date Published:



air-temperature, atlantic, circulation, climate, climate-change, early 20th-century Arctic warming, Multidecadal variability, north pacific, ocean-atmosphere interaction, oscillation, Pacific decadal variability, pressure, sea-ice, simulations, variability, version 2, wind speeds


With amplified warming and record sea ice loss, the Arctic is the canary of global warming. The historical Arctic warming is poorly understood, limiting our confidence in model projections. Specifically, Arctic surface air temperature increased rapidly over the early 20th century, at rates comparable to those of recent decades despite much weaker greenhouse gas forcing. Here, we show that the concurrent phase shift of Pacific and Atlantic interdecadal variability modes is the major driver for the rapid early 20th-century Arctic warming. Atmospheric model simulations successfully reproduce the early Arctic warming when the interdecadal variability of sea surface temperature (SST) is properly prescribed. The early 20th-century Arctic warming is associated with positive SST anomalies over the tropical and North Atlantic and a Pacific SST pattern reminiscent of the positive phase of the Pacific decadal oscillation. Atmospheric circulation changes are important for the early 20th-century Arctic warming. The equatorial Pacific warming deepens the Aleutian low, advecting warm air into the North American Arctic. The extratropical North Atlantic and North Pacific SST warming strengthens surface westerly winds over northern Eurasia, intensifying the warming there. Coupled ocean-atmosphere simulations support the constructive intensification of Arctic warming by a concurrent, negative-to-positive phase shift of the Pacific and Atlantic interdecadal modes. Our results aid attributing the historical Arctic warming and thereby constrain the amplified warming projected for this important region.