Strong remote control of future equatorial warming by off-equatorial forcing

Malte F. Stuecker, Axel Timmermann, Fei-fei Jin, Cristian Proistosescu, Sarah M. Kang, Doyeon Kim, Kyung-sook Yun, Eui-seok Chung, Jung-eun Chu, Cecilia M. Bitz, Kyle C. Armour, Michiya Hayashi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tropical climate response to GHG forcing is spatially non-uniform 1–3. Even though enhanced equatorial and eastern Pacific warming is simulated by most climate models, the underlying mechanisms—including the relative roles of atmospheric and oceanic feedbacks—remain debated. Here, we use a climate model with idealized CO 2-radiative forcing patterns to show that off-equatorial radiative forcing and corresponding coupled circulation/cloud adjustments are responsible for much of equatorial warming in response to global CO 2 forcing. For equatorial forcing, the atmosphere responds by enhancing atmospheric heat export to the extra-tropics, an associated strengthening of the ascending Hadley circulation branch and strong negative equatorial cloud feedbacks. These processes together greatly dampen equatorial surface warming. Intensification of the oceanic subtropical cells and increased cold subsurface water upwelling in the eastern tropical Pacific provide an additional negative feedback for surface temperatures. In contrast, applying off-equatorial forcing, the atmosphere responds by exporting less heat from the tropics, Hadley circulation weakening and weaker negative equatorial cloud feedbacks, while the subtropical cells slow down in the ocean. Our results demonstrate a delicate balance in the coupled climate system between remote circulation adjustments and regional feedbacks that create the patterns of future climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-129
Number of pages6
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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