Estimating Central Equatorial Pacific SST Variability over the Past Millennium. Part II: Reconstructions and Implications

J. Emile-Geay, K. M. Cobb, M. E. Mann, and A. T. Wittenberg

Journal of Climate (2013)

DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00511.1

AbstractReducing the uncertainties surrounding the impacts of anthropogenic climate change requires vetting general circulation models (GCMs) against long records of past natural climate variability. This is particularly challenging in the tropical Pacific Ocean, where short, sparse instrumental data preclude GCM validation on multidecadal to centennial time scales. This two-part paper demonstrates the application of two statistical methodologies to a network of accurately dated tropical climate records to reconstruct sea surface temperature (SST) variability in the Niño-3.4 region over the past millennium. While Part I described the methods and established their validity and limitations, this paper presents several reconstructions of Niño-3.4, analyzes their sensitivity to procedural choices and input data, and compares them to climate forcing time series and previously published tropical Pacific SST reconstructions. The reconstructions herein show remarkably similar behavior at decadal to multidecadal scales, but diverge markedly on centennial scales. The amplitude of centennial variability in each reconstruction scales with the magnitude of the A.D. 1860–1995 trend in the target dataset’s Niño-3.4 index, with Extended Reconstructed SST, version 3 (ERSSTv3) > the Second Hadley Centre SST dataset (HadSST2) > Kaplan SST; these discrepancies constitute a major source of uncertainty in reconstructing preinstrumental Niño-3.4 SST. Despite inevitable variance losses, the reconstructed multidecadal variability exceeds that simulated by a state-of-the-art GCM (forced and unforced) over the past millennium, while reconstructed centennial variability is incompatible with constant boundary conditions. Wavelet coherence analysis reveals a robust antiphasing between solar forcing and Niño-3.4 SST on bicentennial time scales, but not on shorter time scales. Implications for GCM representations of the tropical Pacific climate response to radiative forcing are then discussed.

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