RealClimate logo


On a Weakening of the Walker Circulation

by Ray Pierrehumbert and Rasmus Benestad

Second article of our 3-part series on atmospheric circulation and global warming

In Part I we outlined some general features of the tropical circulation, and discussed ways in which increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases might affect El Niño. Now we take up the question of how global warming might affect the quasi-steady east-west overturning circulation known as the Walker Circulation. The Walker circulation affects convection and precipitation patterns, the easterly Trade Winds, oceanic upwelling and ocean biological productivity; hence, changes in this circulation can have far-reaching consequences. It also provides the background state against which El Niño events take place, and so changes in the Walker circulation should form an intrinsic part of thinking about how global warming will affect El Niño. In a paper that recently appeared in Nature, Vecchi, Soden, Wittenberg, Held, Leetmaa and Harrison present intriguing new results which suggest that there has already been a weakening of the Walker circulation in the past century, and that the observed changes are consistent with those expected as a response to increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The discussion in Vecchi et al. also raises some very interesting issues regarding the way the hydrological cycle might change in a warming world.

More »

El Niño and Global Warming

Filed under: — group @ 17 May 2006

By Rasmus Benestad & Raymond Pierrehumbert

This is the first part of a planned mini-series of 3 posts on tropical climate, circulation, and oceanic response in conjunction with a global warming. Climate change related to a global warming is more than just temperature and precipitation -massive atmospheric circulations change too, and these changes can have consequences.

More »

Global warming on Earth

Filed under: — gavin @ 13 October 2005 - (Français)

The Washington Post picked up on the latest update to the 2005 temperature anomaly analysis from NASA GISS. The 2005 Jan-Sep land data (which is adjusted for urban biases) is higher than the previously warmest year (0.76°C compared to the 1998 anomaly of 0.75°C for the same months, and a 0.71°C anomaly for the whole year) , while the land-ocean temperature index (which includes sea surface temperature data) is trailing slightly behind (0.58°C compared to 0.60°C Jan-Sep, 0.56°C for the whole of 1998). The GISS team (of which I am not a part) had predicted that it was likely the 2005 would exceed the 1998 record (when there was a very large El Niño at the beginning of that year) based on the long term trends in surface temperature and the estimated continuing large imbalance in the Earth’s radiation budget.

In 1998 the last three months of the year were relatively cool as the El Niño pattern had faded. For the 2005 global land-ocean index to exceed the annual 1998 record, the mean anomaly needs to stay above 0.51°C for the next three months. Since there was no El Niño this year, and the mean so far is significantly above that, this seems likely. More »

Hurricanes and Global Warming – Is There a Connection?

Filed under: — group @ 2 September 2005 - (Français) (Español)

by Stefan Rahmstorf, Michael Mann, Rasmus Benestad, Gavin Schmidt, and William Connolley

On Monday August 29, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Louisiana and Missisippi, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. It will be some time until the full toll of this hurricane can be assessed, but the devastating human and environmental impacts are already obvious.

Katrina was the most feared of all meteorological events, a major hurricane making landfall in a highly-populated low-lying region. In the wake of this devastation, many have questioned whether global warming may have contributed to this disaster. Could New Orleans be the first major U.S. city ravaged by human-caused climate change?

More »


Switch to our mobile site