IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Changes in the modes of climate variability

Change in the modes of climate variability in response to anthropogenic forcing can lead to key impacts because these modes dominate annual-to-decadal variability, and adaptation to variability remains challenging in many regions. For example, some studies suggest that anthropogenic forcings would affect El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability (Timmermann et al., 1999; Fedorov and Philander, 2000; Fedorov et al., 2006; Hegerl et al., 2007 Section; Meehl et al., 2007 Section Current ENSO projections are marked by many uncertainties, including

  • the potential for an abrupt and/or hysteresis response,
  • the direction of the shift,
  • the level of warming when triggered.

ENSO shifts would affect agriculture (Cane et al., 1994; Legler et al., 1999), infectious diseases (Rodo et al., 2002), water supply, flooding, droughts (Kuhnel and Coates, 2000; Cole et al., 2002), wildfires (Swetnam and Betancourt, 1990), tropical cyclones (Pielke and Landsea, 1999; Emanuel, 2005), fisheries (Lehodey et al., 1997), carbon sinks (Bacastow et al., 1980) and the North Atlantic MOC (Latif et al., 2000).

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Annular Mode in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (also known as the Arctic Oscillation, AO, and the Antarctic Oscillation, AAO; Meehl et al., 2007 Section; Hartmann et al., 2000; Thompson and Wallace, 2000; Fyfe et al., 1999; Kushner et al., 2001; Cai et al., 2003; Gillett et al., 2003; Kuzmina et al., 2005) are likely to be affected by greenhouse forcing and ozone depletion. For example, the average of the IPCC WGI AR4 simulations from thirteen models shows a positive trend for the Northern Annular Mode that becomes statistically significant early in the 21st century (Meehl et al., 2007 Section Such changes would affect surface pressure patterns, storm tracks and rainfall distributions in the mid and high latitudes of both hemispheres, with potentially serious impacts on regional water supplies, agriculture, wind speeds and extreme events. Implications are potentially severe for water resources and storminess in Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa, Argentina and Chile, southern Europe, and possibly parts of the USA where Mediterranean-type climates prevail.

Current forcing may have caused changes in these modes but observed changes are also similar to those simulated in AOGCMs in the absence of forcing (Cai et al., 2003). There is some evidence for a weakening of major tropical monsoon circulations (AR4 WGI 3.7.1, Projections of monsoon precipitation show a complex pattern of increases (e.g., Australia in the southern summer and Asia), and decreases (e.g., the Sahel in the northern summer) (Meehl et al., 2007 Section Confidence in projections of specific monsoonal changes is low to medium.