Articles | Volume 13, issue 24
Research article
19 Dec 2013
Research article |  | 19 Dec 2013

Anthropogenic agent implicated as a prime driver of shift in precipitation in eastern China in the late 1970s

T. Wang, H. J. Wang, O. H. Otterå, Y. Q. Gao, L. L. Suo, T. Furevik, and L. Yu

Abstract. Observation shows that eastern China experienced an interdecadal shift in the summer precipitation during the second half of the 20th century. The summer precipitation increased in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River valley, whereas it decreased in northern China. Here we use a coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model and multi-ensemble simulations to show that the interdecadal shift is mainly caused by the anthropogenic forcing. The rapidly increasing greenhouse gases induce a notable Indian Ocean warming, causing a westward shift of the western Pacific subtropical high (WPSH) and a southward displacement of the East Asia westerly jet (EAJ) on an interdecadal timescale, leading to more precipitation in Yangtze River valley. At the same time the surface cooling effects from the stronger convection, higher precipitation and rapidly increasing anthropogenic aerosols contribute to a reduced summer land–sea thermal contrast. Due to the changes in the WPSH, the EAJ and the land–sea thermal contrast, the East Asian summer monsoon weakened resulting in drought in northern China. Consequently, an anomalous precipitation pattern started to emerge over eastern China in the late 1970s. According to the model, the natural forcing played an opposite role in regulating the changes in WPSH and EAJ, and postponed the anthropogenically forced climate changes in eastern China. The Indian Ocean sea surface temperature is crucial to the response, and acts as a bridge to link the external forcings and East Asian summer climate together on a decadal and longer timescales. Our results further highlight the dominant roles of anthropogenic forcing agents in shaping interdecadal changes of the East Asian climate during the second half of the 20th century.

Final-revised paper