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

5.3.3 Pacific Ocean

The upper Pacific Ocean has been warming and freshening overall, as revealed in global heat and freshwater analyses (Section 5.2, Figure 5.5). The subtropical North and South Pacific have been warming. In the SH, the major warming footprint is associated with the thick mode waters north of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The North Pacific has cooled along 40°N. Long-term trends are rather difficult to discern in the upper Pacific Ocean because of the strong interannual and decadal variability (ENSO and the PDO) and the relatively short length of the observational records. Changes associated with ENSO are described in Section 3.6.2 and are not included here. Overall, the Pacific is freshening but there are embedded salinity increases in the subtropical upper ocean, where strong evaporation dominates. Pacific Upper Ocean Changes

In the North Pacific, the zonally averaged temperature warming trend from 1955 to 2003 (Figure 5.3) is dominated by the PDO increase in the mid-1970s. The strong cooling between 50 and 200 m is due to relaxation and subsequent shallowing of the tropical thermocline, resulting from a decrease in the shallow tropical MOC and a relaxation of the equatorial thermocline (McPhaden and Zhang, 2002), although after 1998 this shallow overturning circulation returned to levels almost as high as in the 1970s (McPhaden and Zhang, 2004).

Warming in the North Pacific subtropics, cooling around 40°N and slight warming farther north is the pattern associated with a positive PDO (strengthened Aleutian Low; Miller and Douglas, 2004; see Figure 3.28). Within the North Pacific Ocean, a positive PDO state such as occurred after 1976 is characterised by a strengthened Kuroshio Extension. After 1976, the Kuroshio Extension and North Pacific Current transport increased by 8% and expanded southward (Parrish et al., 2000). The Kuroshio’s advection of temperature anomalies has been shown to be of similar importance to variations in ENSO and the strength of the Aleutian Low in maintaining the positive PDO (Schneider and Cornuelle, 2005). The Oyashio penetrated farther southward along the coast of Japan during the 1980s than during the preceding two decades, consistent with a stronger Aleutian Low (Sekine, 1988; Hanawa, 1995; Sekine, 1999). A shoaling of the halocline in the centre of the western subarctic gyre and a concurrent southward shift of the Oyashio extension front during 1976 to 1998 vs. 1945 to 1975 has been detected (Joyce and Dunworth-Baker, 2003). Similarly, mixed layer depth decreased throughout the eastern subarctic gyre, with a distinct trend over 50 years (Freeland et al., 1997; Li et al., 2005).

Temperature changes in upper-ocean water masses in response to the more positive phase of the PDO after 1976 are well documented. The thick water mass just south of the Kuroshio Extension in the subtropical gyre (Subtropical Mode Water) warmed by 0.8°C from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, associated with stronger Kuroshio advection, and the thick water mass along the subtropical-subpolar boundary near 40°N (North Pacific Central Mode Water) cooled by 1°C following the shift in the PDO after 1976 (Yasuda et al., 2000; Hanawa and Kamada, 2001).

Trends towards increased heat content include a major signal in the subtropical South Pacific, within the thick mixed layers just north of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (Willis et al., 2004; Section 5.3.5). The strength of the South Pacific subtropical gyre circulation increased more than 20% after 1993, peaking in 2003, and subsequently declined. This spin up is linked to an increase of Ekman pumping over the gyre due to an increase in the SAM index (Roemmich et al., 2007).

The marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean are also subject to climate variability and change. Like the Mediterranean in the North Atlantic, the Japan (or East) Sea is nearly completely isolated from the adjacent ocean basin, and forms all of its own waters beneath the shallow pycnocline. Because of this sea’s limited size, it responds quickly through its entire depth to surface forcing changes. The warming evident through the global ocean is clearly apparent in this isolated basin, which warmed by 0.1°C at 1,000 m and 0.05°C below 2,500 m since the 1960s. Salinity at these depths also changed, by 0.06 psu per century for depths of 300 to 1,000 m and by –0.02 psu per century below 1,500 m (Kwon et al., 2004). These changes have been attributed to reduced surface heat loss and increased surface salinity, which have changed the mode of ventilation (Kim et al., 2004). Deep water production in the Japan (East) Sea slowed for many decades, with a marked decrease in dissolved oxygen from the 1930s to 2000 at a rate of about 0.8 µmol kg–1 yr–1 (Gamo et al., 1986; Minami et al., 1998). However, possibly because of weakened vertical stratification at mid-depths associated with the decades-long warming, deep-water production reappeared after the 2000–2001 severe winter (e.g., Kim et al., 2002; Senjyu et al., 2002; Talley et al., 2003b). Nevertheless, the overall trend has continued with lower deep-water production in subsequent years.