National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Interhemispheric SST gradient trends in the Indian Ocean prior to and during the recent global warming hiatus

Dong, L., and M.J. McPhaden

J. Climate, 29(24), 9077–9095, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0130.1 (2016)

Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have been rising for decades in the Indian Ocean in response to greenhouse gas forcing. However, this study shows that during the recent hiatus in global warming, a striking interhemispheric gradient in Indian Ocean SST trends developed around 2000, with relatively weak or little warming to the north of 10°S and accelerated warming to the south of 10°S. Evidence is presented from a wide variety of data sources showing that this interhemispheric gradient in SST trends is forced primarily by an increase of Indonesian Throughflow (ITF) transport from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean induced by stronger Pacific trade winds. This increased transport led to a depression of the thermocline that facilitated SST warming, presumably through a reduction in the vertical turbulent transport of heat in the southern Indian Ocean. Surface wind changes in the Indian Ocean linked to the enhanced Walker circulation also may have contributed to thermocline depth variations and associated SST changes, with downwelling-favorable wind stress curls between 10° and 20°S and upwelling-favorable wind stress curls between the equator and 10°S. In addition, the anomalous southwesterly wind stresses off the coast of Somalia favored intensified coastal upwelling and offshore advection of upwelled water, which would have led to reduced warming of the northern Indian Ocean. Although highly uncertain, lateral heat advection associated with the ITF and surface heat fluxes may also have played a role in forming the interhemispheric SST gradient change.

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