IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Mean Tropical Pacific Climate Change

This subsection assesses changes in mean tropical Pacific climate. Enhanced greenhouse gas concentrations result in a general increase in SST, which will not be spatially uniform in association with a general reduction in tropical circulations in a warmer climate (see Section Figures 10.8 and 10.9 indicate that SST increases more over the eastern tropical Pacific than over the western tropical Pacific, together with a decrease in the sea level pressure (SLP) gradient along the equator and an eastward shift of the tropical Pacific rainfall distribution. These background tropical Pacific changes can be called an El Niño-like mean state change (upon which individual El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events occur). Although individual models show a large scatter of ‘ENSO-ness’ (Collins and The CMIP Modelling Groups, 2005; Yamaguchi and Noda, 2006), an ENSO-like global warming pattern with positive polarity (i.e., El Niño-like mean state change) is simulated based on the spatial anomaly patterns of SST, SLP and precipitation (Figure 10.16; Yamaguchi and Noda, 2006). The El Niño-like change may be attributable to the general reduction in tropical circulations resulting from the increased dry static stability in the tropics in a warmer climate (Knutson and Manabe, 1995; Sugi et al., 2002; Figure 10.7). An eastward displacement of precipitation in the tropical Pacific accompanies an intensified and south-westward displaced subtropical anticyclone in the western Pacific, which can be effective in transporting moisture from the low latitudes to the Meiyu/Baiu region, thus generating more precipitation in the East Asian summer monsoon (Kitoh and Uchiyama, 2006).

In summary, the multi-model mean projects a weak shift towards conditions which may be described as ‘El Niño-like’, with SSTs in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific warming more than those in the west, and with an eastward shift in mean precipitation, associated with weaker tropical circulations.

Figure 10.16

Figure 10.16. Base state change in average tropical Pacific SSTs and change in El Niño variability simulated by AOGCMs (see Table 8.1 for model details). The base state change (horizontal axis) is denoted by the spatial anomaly pattern correlation coefficient between the linear trend of SST in the 1% yr–1 CO2 increase climate change experiment and the first Empirical Orthogonal Function (EOF) of SST in the control experiment over the area 10°S to 10°N, 120°E to 80°W (reproduced from Yamaguchi and Noda, 2006). Positive correlation values indicate that the mean climate change has an El Niño-like pattern, and negative values are La Niña-like. The change in El Niño variability (vertical axis) is denoted by the ratio of the standard deviation of the first EOF of sea level pressure (SLP) between the current climate and the last 50 years of the SRES A2 experiments (2051–2100), except for FGOALS-g1.0 and MIROC3.2(hires), for which the SRES A1B was used, and UKMO-HadGEM1 for which the 1% yr–1 CO2 increase climate change experiment was used, in the region 30°S to 30°N, 30°E to 60°W with a five-month running mean (reproduced from van Oldenborgh et al., 2005). Error bars indicate the 95% confidence interval. Note that tropical Pacific base state climate changes with either El Niño-like or La Niña-like patterns are not permanent El Niño or La Niña events, and all still have ENSO inter- annual variability superimposed on that new average climate state in a future warmer climate.