Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 31 Issue 02

View Issue TOC
Volume 31, No. 2
Pages 72 - 79

An Ocean View of the Global Surface Warming Hiatus

Wei Liu Shang-Ping Xie
Article Abstract

The rate of global mean surface temperature increase slowed during 1998–2012. We review oceanic changes during this global warming hiatus from different but related perspectives. In one perspective, we explore the physical mechanisms for sea surface temperature patterns and highlight the role of natural variability, particularly the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) that both have chaotic/random phases. In the other perspective, we investigate how the hiatus relates to changes in energy fluxes at the top of the atmosphere and to the three-dimensional distribution of ocean heat content change on decadal time­scales. We find that the recent surface warming hiatus is associated with a transition of the IPO from a positive to negative phase and with heat redistribution between the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans. The AMO has shifted to a positive phase since the late 1990s, inducing a La Niña-type response over the tropical Pacific via a tropic-wide teleconnection, contributing to the global warming hiatus.


Liu, W., and S.-P. Xie. 2018. An ocean view of the global surface warming hiatus. Oceanography 31(2):72–79, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2018.217.


Alexander, M.A. 1990. Simulation of the response of the North Pacific Ocean to the anomalous atmospheric circulation associated with El Niño. Climate Dynamics 5:53–65, https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00195853.

Balmaseda, M.A., K.E. Trenberth, and E. Källén. 2013. Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content. Geophysical Research Letters 40:1,754–1,759, https://doi.org/10.1002/grl.50382.

Brown, P.T., W. Li and S.-P. Xie. 2015. Regions of significant influence on unforced global mean surface temperature variability in climate models. Journal of Geophysical Research 120:480–494, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2014JD022576.

Chen, X., and K.-K. Tung. 2014. Varying planetary heat sink led to global-warming slowdown and acceleration. Science 345:897–903, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1254937.

Cheng, L., K.E. Trenberth, J. Fasullo, T. Boyer, J. Abraham, and J. Zhu. 2017. Improved estimates of ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015. Science Advances 3:e1601545, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1601545.

Clement, A., P. DiNezio, and C. Deser. 2011. Rethinking the ocean’s role in the Southern Oscillation. Journal of Climate 24:4,056–4,072, https://doi.org/10.1175/2011JCLI3973.1.

Dai, A., J.C. Fyfe, X.-P. Xie, and X. Dai. 2015. Decadal modulation of global surface temperature by internal climate variability. Nature Climate Change 5:555–559, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2605.

Deser, C., R. Guo, and F. Lehner. 2017. The relative contributions of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures and atmospheric internal variability to the recent global warming hiatus. Geophysical Research Letters 44:7,945–7,954, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2017GL074273.

Deser, C., A. Phillips, and J. Hurrell. 2004. Pacific interdecadal climate variability: Linkages between the tropics and North Pacific during boreal winter since 1900. Journal of Climate 17:3,109–3,124, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0442(2004)017​<3109:PICVLB>2.0.CO;2.

Drijfhout, S.S., A.T. Blaker, S.A. Josey, A.J.G. Nurser, B. Sinha, and M.A. Balmaseda. 2014. Surface warming hiatus caused by increased heat uptake across multiple ocean basins. Geophysical Research Letters 41:7,868–7,874 https://doi.org/​10.1002/2014GL061456.

Durack, P.J., P.J. Gleckler, F.W. Landerer, and K.E. Taylor. 2014. Quantifying underestimates of long-term upper-ocean warming. Nature Climate Change 4:999–1,005, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2389.

Easterling, D.R., and M.F. Wehner. 2009. Is the climate warming or cooling? Geophysical Research Letters 36, L08706, https://doi.org/​10.1029/​2009GL037810.

England, M.H., S. McGregor, P. Spence, G.A. Meehl, A. Timmermann, W. Cai, A. Sen Gupta, M.J. McPhaden, A. Purich, and A. Santoso. 2014. Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus. Nature Climate Change 4:222–227, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2106.

Figueres, C., H.J. Schellnhuber, G. Whiteman, J. Rockström, A. Hobley, and S. Rahmstorf. 2017. Three years to safeguard our climate. Nature 546:593–595, https://doi.org/​10.1038/​546593a.

Frajka-Williams, E. 2015. Estimating the Atlantic overturning at 26°N using satellite altimetry and cable measurements. Geophysical Research Letters 42:3,458–3,464, https://doi.org/​10.1002/​2015GL063220.

Fyfe, J., G. Meehl, M. England, M. Mann, B. Santer, G. Flato, E. Hawkins, N. Gillett, S.-P. Xie, Y. Kosaka, and N. Swart. 2016. Making sense of the early-2000s global warming slowdown. Nature Climate Change 6:224–228, https://doi.org/​10.1038/​nclimate2938.

Gouretski, V., and F. Reseghetti. 2010. On depth and temperature biases in bathythermograph data: Development of a new correction scheme based on analysis of a global ocean database. Deep Sea Research Part I 57:812–834, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.dsr.2010.03.011.

Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo. 2010. Global surface temperature change. Review of Geophysics 48, RG4004, https://doi.org/​10.1029/​2010RG000345.

Hartmann, D.L., A.M.G. Klein Tank, M. Rusticucci, L.V. Alexander, S. Brönnimann, Y. Charabi, F.J. Dentener, E.J. Dlugokencky, D.R. Easterling, A. Kaplan, and others. 2013. Observations: Atmosphere and surface. Pp. 159–254 in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex, and P. M. Midgley, eds, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA.

Hedemann, C., T. Mauritsen, J. Jungclaus, and J. Marotzke. 2017. The subtle origins of surface-​warming hiatuses. Nature Climate Change 7:336–339, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3274.

Hirahara, S., M. Ishii, and Y. Fukuda. 2014. Centennial-scale sea surface temperature analysis and its uncertainty. Journal of Climate 27:57–75, https://doi.org/​10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00837.1.

Huang, B., V.F. Banzon, E. Freeman, J. Lawrimore, W. Liu, T.C. Peterson, T.M. Smith, P.W. Thorne, S.D. Woodruff, and H.-M. Zhang. 2015. Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature, version 4 (ERSSTv4): Part I. Upgrades and intercomparisons. Journal of Climate 28:911–930, https://doi.org/​10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00006.1.

Huang, B., P.W. Thorne, V.F. Banzon, T. Boyer, G. Chepurin, J.H. Lawrimore, M.J. Menne, T.M. Smith, R.S. Vose, and H.-M. Zhang. 2017. Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature, version 5 (ERSSTv5): Upgrades, validations, and intercomparisons. Journal of Climate 30:8,179–8,205, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0836.1.

Ishii, M., A. Shouji, S. Sugimoto, and T. Matsumoto. 2005. Objective analyses of sea-surface temperature and marine meteorological variables for the 20th century using ICOADS and the Kobe Collection. International Journal of Climatology 25:865–879, https://doi.org/10.1002/joc.1169.

Jackson, L.C., K.A. Peterson, C.D. Roberts, and R.A. Wood. 2016. Recent slowing of Atlantic overturning circulation as a recovery from earlier strengthening. Nature Geoscience 9:518–522, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2715.

Karl, T.R., A. Arguez, B. Huang, J.H. Lawrimore, J.R. McMahon, M.J. Menne, T.C. Peterson, R.S. Vose, and H.-M. Zhang. 2015. Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus. Science 348:1,469–1,472, https://doi.org/​10.1126/​science.aaa5632.

Kay, J.E., C. Deser, A. Phillips, A. Mai, C. Hannay, G. Strand, J.M. Arblaster, S.C. Bates, G. Danabasoglu, J. Edwards, and others. 2015. The Community Earth System Model (CESM) large ensemble project: A community resource for studying climate change in the presence of internal climate variability. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 96:1,333–1,349, https://doi.org/​10.1175/​BAMS-D-​13-00255.1.

Kosaka, Y., and S.-P. Xie. 2013. Recent global-​warming hiatus tied to equatorial Pacific surface cooling. Nature 501:403–407, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12534.

Kosaka, Y., and S.-P. Xie. 2016. The tropical Pacific as a key pacemaker of the variable rates of global warming. Nature Geoscience 9:669–673, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2770.

Kushnir, Y. 1994. Interdecadal variations in the North Atlantic sea surface temperature and associated atmospheric conditions. Journal of Climate 7:141–157, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0442(1994)007​<0141:IVINAS>2.0.CO;2.

Lee, S.-K., W. Park, M.O. Baringer, A.L. Gordon, B. Huber, and Y. Liu. 2015. Pacific origin of the abrupt increase in Indian Ocean heat content during the warming hiatus. Nature Geoscience 8:445–449, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2438.

Leroux, S., T. Penduff, L. Bessières, J.M. Molines, J.M. Brankart, G. Sérazin, B. Barnier, and L. Terray. 2018. Intrinsic and atmospherically forced variability of the AMOC: Insights from a large-ensemble ocean hindcast. Journal of Climate 31:1,183–1,203, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0168.1.

Levitus, S., J.I. Antonov, T.P. Boyer, R.A. Locarnini, H.E. Garcia, and A.V. Mishonov. 2009. Global ocean heat content 1955–2008 in light of recently revealed instrumentation problems. Geophysical Research Letters 36, L07608, https://doi.org/​10.1029/2008GL037155.

Levitus, S., J.I. Antonov, T.P. Boyer, R.A. Locarnini, H.E. Garcia, A.V. Mishonov, J.R. Reagan, D. Seidov, E.S. Yarosh, and M.M. Zweng. 2012. World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000 m), 1955–2010. Geophysical Research Letters 39:L10603, https://doi.org/​10.1029/2012GL051106.

Li, X., S.-P. Xie, S.T. Gille, and C. Yoo. 2016. Atlantic-induced pan-tropical climate change over the past three decades. Nature Climate Change 6:275–279, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2840.

Liu, W., B. Huang, P.W. Thorne, V.F. Banzon, H.-M. Zhang, E. Freeman, J. Lawrimore, T.C. Peterson, T.M. Smith, and S.D. Woodruff. 2015. Extended reconstructed sea surface temperature version 4 (ERSST.v4). Part II: Parametric and structural uncertainty estimations. Journal of Climate 28:931–951, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00007.1.

Liu, W., J. Lu, S.-P. Xie, and A. Fedorov. 2018. Southern Ocean heat uptake, redistribution, and storage in a warming climate: The role of meridional overturning circulation. Journal of Climate 31:4,727–4,743, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0761.1.

Liu, W., S.-P. Xie, and J. Lu. 2016. Tracking ocean heat uptake during the surface warming hiatus. Nature Communications 7:10926, https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms10926.

Loeb, N.G., J.M. Lyman, G.C. Johnson, R.P. Allan,
D.R. Doelling, T. Wong, B.J. Soden, and G.L. Stephens. 2012. Observed changes in top-of-the-atmosphere radiation and upper-ocean heating consistent within uncertainty. Nature Geoscience 5:110–113, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1375.

Lozier, M.S., S. Leadbetter, R.G. Williams, V. Roussenov, M.S.C. Reed, and N.J. Moore. 2008. The spatial pattern and mechanism of heat-content change in the North Atlantic. Science 319:800–803, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1146436.

Lyman, J.M., S.A. Good, V.V. Gouretski, M. Ishii, G.C. Johnson, M.D. Palmer, D.M. Smith, and J.K. Willis. 2010. Robust warming of the global upper ocean. Nature 465:334–337, https://doi.org/​10.1038/​nature09043.

Maher, N., M.H. England, A.S. Gupta, and P. Spence. 2018. Role of Pacific trade winds in driving ocean temperatures during the recent slowdown and projections under a wind trend reversal. Climate Dynamics:51(1–2):321–336, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-017-3923-3.

Mantua, N.J., S.R. Hare, Y. Zhang, J.M. Wallace, and R.C. Francis. 1997. A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 78:1,069–1,079, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0477(1997)078<1069:APICOW>2.0.CO;2.

McGregor, S., A. Timmermann, M.F. Stuecker, M.H. England, M. Merrifield, F.-F. Jin, and Y. Chikamoto. 2014. Recent Walker circulation strengthening and Pacific cooling amplified by Atlantic warming. Nature Climate Change 4:888–892, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2330.

Meehl, G.A., J.M. Arblaster, J.T. Fasullo, A. Hu, and K.E. Trenberth. 2011. Model-based evidence of deep-ocean heat uptake during surface-temperature hiatus periods. Nature Climate Change 1:360–364, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1229.

Meehl, G.A., A. Hu, J.M. Arblaster, J. Fasullo, and K.E. Trenberth. 2013. Externally forced and internally generated decadal climate variability associated with the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Journal of Climate 26:7,298–7,310, https://doi.org/​10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00548.1.

Meehl, G.A., H. Teng, and J.M. Arblaster. 2014. Climate model simulations of the observed early-​2000s hiatus of global warming. Nature Climate Change 4:898–902, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2357.

Morice, C.P., J.J. Kennedy, N.A. Rayner, and P.D. Jones. 2012. Quantifying uncertainties in global and regional temperature change using an ensemble of observational estimates: The HadCRUT4 dataset. Journal of Geophysical Research 117, D08101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2011JD017187.

Newman, M., M.A. Alexander, T.R. Ault, K.M. Cobb, C. Deser, E. Di Lorenzo, N.J. Mantua, A.J. Miller, S. Minobe, H. Nakamura, and others. 2016. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, revisited. Journal of Climate 29:4,399–4,427, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0508.1.

Nieves, V., J.K. Willis, and W.C. Patzert. 2015. Recent hiatus caused by decadal shift in Indo-Pacific heating. Science 349:532–535, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaa4521.

Penduff, T., G. Sérazin, S. Leroux, S. Close, J.-M. Molines, B. Barnier, L. Bessières, L. Terray, and G. Maze. 2018. Chaotic variability of ocean heat content: Climate-relevant features and observational implications. Oceanography 31(2), https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2018.210.

Power, S., T. Casey, C. Folland, A. Colman, and V. Mehta. 1999. Inter-decadal modulation of the impact of ENSO on Australia. Climate Dynamics 15:319–324, https://doi.org/10.1007/s003820050284.

Rayner, N.A., D.E. Parker, E.B. Horton, C.K. Folland, L.V. Alexander, D.P. Rowell, E.C. Kent, and A. Kaplan. 2003. Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. Journal of Geophysical Research 108:4407, https://doi.org/​10.1029/2002JD002670.

Rhein, M., S.R. Rintoul, S. Aoki, E. Campos, D. Chambers, R.A. Feely, S. Gulev, G.C. Johnson, S.A. Josey, A. Kostianoy, and others. 2013. Observations: Ocean. Pp. 255–310 in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex, and P. M. Midgley, eds, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA.

Robson, J., P. Ortega, and R. Sutton. 2016. A reversal of climatic trends in the North Atlantic since 2005. Nature Geoscience 9:513–517, https://doi.org/​10.1038/ngeo2727.

Roemmich, D., J. Church, J. Gilson, D. Monselesan, P. Sutton, and S. Wijffels. 2015. Unabated planetary warming and its ocean structure since 2006. Nature Climate Change 5:240–245, https://doi.org/​10.1038/nclimate2513.

Santer, B.D., C. Bonfils, J.F. Painter, M.D. Zelinka, C. Mears, S. Solomon, G.A. Schmidt, J.C. Fyfe, J.N. Cole, L. Nazarenko, and others. 2014. Volcanic contribution to decadal changes in tropospheric temperature. Nature Geoscience 7:185–189, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2098.

Sérazin, G., A. Jaymond, S. Leroux, T. Penduff, L. Bessières, W. Llovel, B. Barnier, J.-M. Molines, and L. Terray. 2017. A global probabilistic study of the ocean heat content low-frequency variability: Atmospheric forcing versus oceanic chaos. Geophysical Research Letters 44:5,580–5,589, https://doi.org/10.1002/2017GL073026.

Smith, D.M., R.P. Allan, A.C. Coward, R. Eade, P. Hyder, C. Liu, N.G. Loeb, M.D. Palmer, C.D. Roberts, and A.A. Scaife. 2015. Earth’s energy imbalance since 1960 in observations and CMIP5 models. Geophysical Research Letters 42:1,205–1,213, https://doi.org/10.1002/2014GL062669.

Smith, D.M., B.B.B. Booth, N.J. Dunstone, R. Eade, L. Hermanson, G.S. Jones, A.A. Scaife, K.L. Sheen, and V. Thompson. 2016. Role of volcanic and anthropogenic aerosols in the recent global surface warming slowdown. Nature Climate Change 6:936–940, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3058.

Smith, T.M., R.W. Reynolds, T.C. Peterson, and J. Lawrimore. 2008. Improvements to NOAA’s historical merged land–ocean surface temperatures analysis (1880–2006). Journal of Climate 21:2,283–2,296, https://doi.org/10.1175/2007JCLI2100.1.

Somavilla, R., C. González-Pola,
U. Schauer, and G. Budéus. 2016. Mid-2000s North Atlantic shift: Heat budget and circulation changes. Geophysical Research Letters 43:2,059–2,068, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2015GL067254.

Srokosz, M.A., and H.L. Bryden. 2015. Observing the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation yields a decade of inevitable surprises. Science 348:1255575, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1255575.

Trenberth, K.E., J.T. Fasullo, and M.A. Balmaseda. 2014. Earth’s energy imbalance. Journal of Climate 27:3,129–3,144, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00294.1.

Xie, S.-P., and Y. Kosaka. 2017. What caused the global surface warming hiatus of 1998–2013? Current Climate Change Reports 3:128–140, https://doi.org/​10.1007/s40641-017-0063-0.

Xie, S.-P., Y. Kosaka, and Y.M. Okumura. 2016. Distinct energy budgets for anthropogenic and natural changes during global warming hiatus. Nature Geoscience 9:29–33, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2581.

Watanabe, M., H. Shiogama, H. Tatebe, M. Hayashi, M. Ishii, and M. Kimoto. 2014. Contribution of natural decadal variability to global warming acceleration and hiatus. Nature Climate Change 4:893–897, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2355.

Williams, R.G., V. Roussenov, D. Smith, and M.S. Lozier. 2014. Decadal evolution of ocean thermal anomalies in the North Atlantic: The effects of Ekman, overturning, and horizontal transport. Journal of Climate 27:698–719, https://doi.org/​10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00234.1.