Collaborative Research: Forced Trends in the Tropical Pacific and Global Tropical Cyclones

Lead PI: Chia-Ying Lee , Dr. Richard Seager , Prof. Adam Sobel , Suzana Camargo, Boniface O Fosu, Kevin Reed

Unit Affiliation: Ocean and Climate Physics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2022 - July 2025
Asia ; Taiwan R.O.C.
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The temperature contrast between the "warm pool" region of the western equatorial Pacific and the "cold tongue" in the east is remarkable: visitors to the Solomon islands find sea surface temperatures (SSTs) above 80F while visitors to the Galapagos don wetsuits to go snorkeling. Naturally the temperature contrast has a variety of effects on the weather and climate of the tropics, one of which is the relative abundance of hurricanes (also called typhoons and TCs, for tropical cyclones) which are more abundant in the western Pacific than anywhere else in the world. The influence of the SST contrast can be seen in comparisons between El Nino events, in which the contrast weakens due to warming in the cold tongue region, and La Nina events, which strengthen the contrast. El Nino years feature fewer TCs in the western Pacific and more in the central and eastern Pacific, with the opposite pattern in La Nina years.

The influence of El Nino and La Nina on TCs and other aspects of tropical weather and climate begs the question: will the equatorial Pacific SST contrast be strengthened or weakened by greenhouse gas-induced global warming? The evidence is mixed since climate models generally show weakening as the earth warms but observations show strengthening over the past few decades. The mismatch could be due to the internal variability of the climate system, which operates even as greenhouse gas increases warm the world. But it is also possible that climate model biases, in particular the bias of a cold tongue which is too cold and too extensive, lead to incorrect simulations of the effects of greenhouse warming.

Work under this award addresses the possible effect of the cold tongue bias on the simulated SST contrast change using a technique called flux adjustment, in which the exchange of heat and moisture between the atmosphere and ocean is modified to eliminate the cold tongue bias in present-day climate simulations. The flux-adjusted climate model is then used to simulate the response of the SST contrast to greenhouse gas increases. The work is carried out with the Community Earth System Model version 2 (CESM2).

The effects of an El Nino-like or La Nina-like SST warming pattern on tropical cyclones is difficult to assess from climate model simulations because the resolution of climate models is not typically high enough to simulate TCs. One strategy pursued here is to simulate TCs using shorter simulations from a high-resolution atmosphere-only model which is run over the SST warming pattern produced by the climate model. Another is to use the Columbia HAZard model (CHAZ), an empirical TC model developed by the lead Principal Investigator (PI). CHAZ uses large-scale atmospheric conditions from the climate model or observational datasets to predict the tracks and intensities of "synthetic" TCs that are initiated at random based on a TC genesis index.

BROADER IMPACTS: Our current understanding of future TC activity has an under-recognized uncertainty due to a common and consistent bias in current global models. This project will develop an alternative view based on physical reasoning and evidence from observations and models. Knowledge of future changes in TC activity is consequential for climate adaptation planning and disaster risk reduction, so our results will be directly relevant to these activities. The project team has considerable contacts and ongoing collaborations with influential actors, such that the results could have direct impact on these sectors. The project results can be immediately implemented in undergraduate and graduate relevant courses to give the students an exposure to current research. This work will contribute to the education and training of early career scientists in this important discipline


National Science Foundation




Haibo Liu, Gus Correa


Mississippi State University, Stony Brook