Enhanced hydrological cycle increases ocean heat uptake and moderates transient climate change

Maofeng Liu, Gabriel Vecchi, Brian Soden, Wenchang Yang, Bosong Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The large-scale moistening of the atmosphere in response to increasing greenhouse gases amplifies the existing patterns of precipitation minus evaporation (P − E), which, in turn, amplifies the spatial contrast in sea surface salinity. Here, by performing a series of transient CO2 doubling experiments, we demonstrate that surface salinification driven by the amplified dry conditions (P − E < 0), primarily in the subtropical ocean, accelerates ocean heat uptake. The salinification also drives the sequestration of upper-level heat into the deeper ocean, reducing the thermal stratification and increasing the heat uptake through positive feedback. The change in Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation due to salinification has a secondary role in heat uptake. Consistent with the heat uptake changes, the transient climate response would increase by approximately 0.4 K without this process. Observed multidecadal changes in subsurface temperature and salinity resemble those simulated, indicating that anthropogenically forced changes in salinity are probably enhancing ocean heat uptake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)848-853
Number of pages6
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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