Increased frequency of extreme La Niña events under greenhouse warming

Wenju Cai, Guojian Wang, Agus Santoso, Michael J. Mcphaden, Lixin Wu, Fei Fei Jin, Axel Timmermann, Mat Collins, Gabriel Andres Vecchi, Matthieu Lengaigne, Matthew H. England, Dietmar Dommenget, Ken Takahashi, Eric Guilyardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

467 Scopus citations


The El Niño/Southern Oscillation is Earth's most prominent source of interannual climate variability, alternating irregularly between El Niño and La Niña, and resulting in global disruption of weather patterns, ecosystems, fisheries and agriculture. The 1998-1999 extreme La Niña event that followed the 1997-1998 extreme El Niño event switched extreme El Niño-induced severe droughts to devastating floods in western Pacific countries, and vice versa in the southwestern United States. During extreme La Niña events, cold sea surface conditions develop in the central Pacific, creating an enhanced temperature gradient from the Maritime continent to the central Pacific. Recent studies have revealed robust changes in El Niño characteristics in response to simulated future greenhouse warming, but how La Niña will change remains unclear. Here we present climate modelling evidence, from simulations conducted for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (ref.), for a near doubling in the frequency of future extreme La Niña events, from one in every 23 years to one in every 13 years. This occurs because projected faster mean warming of the Maritime continent than the central Pacific, enhanced upper ocean vertical temperature gradients, and increased frequency of extreme El Niño events are conducive to development of the extreme La Niña events. Approximately 75% of the increase occurs in years following extreme El Niño events, thus projecting more frequent swings between opposite extremes from one year to the next.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-137
Number of pages6
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 28 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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