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Forced and unforced decadal behavior of the interhemispheric SST contrast during the instrumental period (1881–2012): Contextualizing the late 1960s–early 1970s shift

  • Author(s): Friedman, AR
  • Hegerl, GC
  • Schurer, AP
  • Lee, SY
  • Kong, W
  • Cheng, W
  • Chiang, JCH
  • et al.
Abstract

The sea surface temperature (SST) contrast between the Northern Hemisphere (NH) and Southern Hemisphere (SH) influences the location of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and the intensity of the monsoon systems. This study examines the contributions of external forcing and unforced internal variability to the interhemispheric SST contrast in HadSST3 and ERSSTv5 observations, and 10 models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) from 1881 to 2012. Using multimodel mean fingerprints, a significant influence of anthropogenic, but not natural, forcing is detected in the interhemispheric SST contrast, with the observed response larger than that of the model mean in ERSSTv5. The forced response consists of asymmetric NH–SH SST cooling from the mid-twentieth century to around 1980, followed by opposite NH–SH SST warming. The remaining best-estimate residual or unforced component is marked by NH–SH SST maxima in the 1930s and mid-1960s, and a rapid NH–SH SST decrease around 1970. Examination of decadal shifts in the observed interhemispheric SST contrast highlights the shift around 1970 as the most prominent from 1881 to 2012. Both NH and SH SST variability contributed to the shift, which appears not to be attributable to external forcings. Most models examined fail to capture such large-magnitude shifts in their control simulations, although some models with high interhemispheric SST variability are able to produce them. Large-magnitude shifts produced by the control simulations feature disparate spatial SST patterns, some of which are consistent with changes typically associated with the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC).

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