Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Publication Date
15 January 2023

Evolution of the Internal Climate Modes under Future Warming



Climate modes play an important role in weather and climate variability over multiple spatial and temporal scales. This research assesses Earth system model (ESM) projections of the spatiotemporal characteristics of key internal climate modes (NAM, SAM, PNA, ENSO, PDO, and AMO) under high (SSP585) and low (SSP126) radiative forcing scenarios and contextualizes those projections using historical fidelity. Time series analyses are used to assess trends and mode phase characteristics are summarized for the historical period and for the end of the twenty-first century. Spatial patterns are compared to infer morphological changes. Shifts in the power spectra are used to examine changes in variability at subannual, interannual, and interdecadal scales. Changes in time-lagged correlations are used to capture the evolution of first-order interactions. While differences in historical skill are predominantly ESM dependent, changing mode characteristics in a warmer climate also exhibit variability between individual ensemble realizations. NAM, SAM, and ENSO tend to evolve toward increased prevalence of the positive phase up to 2100 across the multimodel ensemble while the PNA and PDO exhibit little trend but increasing phase intensity. AMO characteristics are shown to depend on the method used to remove the external signal. ESMs that show higher historical fidelity tend to show more modest changes in those modes under global nonstationarity. Changes in mode interactions are found to be highly ESM dependent but exhibit broadly similar behavior to historical relationships. These findings have implications for our understanding of internal variability and make clear that the choice of ESM, and even the ESM realization, matters for applications of climate projections. Significance Statement Internal modes of variability are important to understand due to their impact on local, regional, and global weather and climate patterns. Future climate changes will not only be affected by the variability arising from these modes, but the modes will themselves change in response to the changing climate. Spatial and temporal aspects of the modes are assessed from projections of future climate and related to how well they are captured in the historical climate. This yields some measure of confidence in the changes exhibited by the models. In most cases, when historically skillful models exhibit changes that are different from those produced by less skillful models, they tend to produce more modest changes. These results, as well as the variability between model outcomes, mean decisions on which ESM to use for projections of the future climate matter significantly.

Coburn, Jacob J, and Sara C. Pryor. 2023. “Evolution Of The Internal Climate Modes Under Future Warming”. Journal Of Climate 36 (2). American Meteorological Society: 511-529. doi:10.1175/jcli-d-22-0200.1.
Funding Program Area(s)