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Zheng, XT, Hui C, Xie SP, Cai WJ, Long SM.  2019.  Intensification of El Nino Rainfall Variability Over the Tropical Pacific in the Slow Oceanic Response to Global Warming. Geophysical Research Letters. 46:2253-2260.   10.1029/2018gl081414   AbstractWebsite

Changes in rainfall variability of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are investigated under scenarios where the greenhouse gases increase and then stabilize. During the period of increasing greenhouse forcing, the ocean mixed layer warms rapidly. After the forcing stabilizes, the deeper ocean continues to warm the surface (the slow response). We show that ENSO rainfall variability over the tropical Pacific intensifies in both periods but the rate of increase per degree global mean surface temperature (GMST) warming is larger for the slow response because of greater relative warming in the base state as the mean upwelling changes from a damping to a driver of the surface warming. Our results have important implications for climate extremes under GMST stabilization that the Paris Agreement calls for. To stabilize GMST, the fast surface cooling offsets the slow warming from the prior greenhouse gas increase, while ENSO rainfall variability would continue to increase. Plain Language Summary The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global mean surface temperature increase to well below 2 degrees at the end of the 21st century. This requires the greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration to peak and subsequently decline in the next few decades. After the GHG concentration peak, the heat accumulated in the ocean surface layer continues to penetrate to the deeper ocean. This deeper ocean warming leads to a slow response of surface warming, further influencing the climate system. This study examines scenarios where GHGs increase and then stabilize to isolate the fast and slow responses of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) rainfall variability. We find intensification of ENSO rainfall variability both during the increase and after stabilization of GHG concentrations due to a persistent El Nino-like mean warming pattern in the tropical Pacific. Furthermore, for unit global mean surface temperature increase, the changes in the mean state temperature and ENSO rainfall variability in the eastern equatorial Pacific is larger during the slow response. These results imply that there is a need for GHG emission reduction in the near future to avoid more extreme tropical rainfall during El Nino.

Peng, QH, Xie SP, Wang DX, Zheng XT, Zhang H.  2019.  Coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamics of the 2017 extreme coastal El Nino. Nature Communications. 10   10.1038/s41467-018-08258-8   AbstractWebsite

In March 2017, sea surface temperatures off Peru rose above 28 degrees C, causing torrential rains that affected the lives of millions of people. This coastal warming is highly unusual in that it took place with a weak La Nina state. Observations and ocean model experiments show that the downwelling Kelvin waves caused by strong westerly wind events over the equatorial Pacific, together with anomalous northerly coastal winds, are important. Atmospheric model experiments further show the anomalous coastal winds are forced by the coastal warming. Taken together, these results indicate a positive feedback off Peru between the coastal warming, atmospheric deep convection, and the coastal winds. These coupled processes provide predictability. Indeed, initialized on as early as 1 February 2017, seasonal prediction models captured the extreme rainfall event. Climate model projections indicate that the frequency of extreme coastal El Nino will increase under global warming.

Liu, W, Xie SP, Lu J.  2016.  Tracking ocean heat uptake during the surface warming hiatus. Nature Communications. 7   10.1038/ncomms10926   AbstractWebsite

Ocean heat uptake is observed to penetrate deep into the Atlantic and Southern Oceans during the recent hiatus of global warming. Here we show that the deep heat penetration in these two basins is not unique to the hiatus but is characteristic of anthropogenic warming and merely reflects the depth of the mean meridional overturning circulation in the basin. We find, however, that heat redistribution in the upper 350m between the Pacific and Indian Oceans is closely tied to the surface warming hiatus. The Indian Ocean shows an anomalous warming below 50m during hiatus events due to an enhanced heat transport by the Indonesian throughflow in response to the intensified trade winds in the equatorial Pacific. Thus, the Pacific and Indian Oceans are the key regions to track ocean heat uptake during the surface warming hiatus.