Global Warming Kicks Up Record Pacific Trade Winds

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Rapid warming of the Atlantic Ocean is "turbocharging" Pacific equatorial trade winds, according to new research. These are the strongest trade winds since recording began in the 1860s, according to scientists from the University of New South Wales and the University of Hawaii.

"The increase in these winds has ... amplified the Californian drought, accelerated sea level rise three times faster than the global average in the Western Pacific and has slowed the rise of global average surface temperatures since 2001," the study's authors report.

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The rapid warming of the Atlantic Ocean basin has created a surprising pressure difference between the Atlantic and Pacific, the researchers say. This difference has produced wind anomalies that cause the Pacific equatorial trade winds to intensify.

"We were surprised to find the main cause of the Pacific climate trends of the past 20 years had its origin in the Atlantic Ocean," co-lead author Shayne McGregor, from the University of New South Wales, said in a statement. "It highlights how changes in the climate in one part of the world can have extensive impacts around the globe."

Earlier research suggested the intensified trade winds were trapping heat from the air in the ocean, slowing the warming of global surface temperature.

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This pressure difference between the two ocean basins isn't expected to last. And as previous research reported, when it does end, a sudden acceleration of average temperature around the globe would likely occur.

"It will be difficult to predict when the Pacific cooling trend and its contribution to the global hiatus in surface temperatures will come to an end," co-author Matthew England said. "However, a large El Niño event is one candidate that has the potential to drive the system back to a more synchronized Atlantic/Pacific warming situation."