Call them the winds of climate change.
Unusually strong winds in the Pacific Ocean have helped dampen some of the effects of global warming – at least for now, researchers said.
“The strongest trade winds have driven more of the heat from global warming into the oceans; but when those winds slow, that heat will rapidly return to the atmosphere causing an abrupt rise in global average temperatures,” says a statement on the work of a research team involving Australia's University of New South Wales and the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.
The team, with lead study author and university professor Matthew England, published its findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The Pacific trade winds started growing stronger than normal in the 1990s. At about the same time, warming of the Earth’s surface started to level off, researchers said. Previous climate models, though, had never put the two trends together.
“Once the trade winds were added [to climate models] by the researchers, the global average temperatures very closely resembled the observations during the hiatus,” the team stated.
The winds, in short, “stalled warming of the atmosphere,” England explained.
The professor warned, however, that the effect is temporary: As soon as the winds die down and return to normal, heat will rapidly return from the ocean’s waters to the atmosphere.
“Climate scientists have long understood that global temperatures don’t rise in a continual upward trajectory, instead warming in a series of abrupt steps … ,” England said. “We should be very clear: the current hiatus offers no comfort – we are just seeing another pause in warming before the next inevitable rise in global temperatures.”