Will surface winds weaken in response to global warming?

Jian Ma, Gregory R. Foltz, Brian J. Soden, Gang Huang, Jie He, Changming Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The surface Walker and tropical tropospheric circulations have been inferred to slow down from historical observations and model projections, yet analysis of large-scale surface wind predictions is lacking. Satellite measurements of surface wind speed indicate strengthening trends averaged over the global and tropical oceans that are supported by precipitation and evaporation changes. Here we use corrected anemometer-based observations to show that the surface wind speed has not decreased in the averaged tropical oceans, despite its reduction in the region of the Walker circulation. Historical simulations and future projections for climate change also suggest a near-zero wind speed trend averaged in space, regardless of the Walker cell change. In the tropics, the sea surface temperature pattern effect acts against the large-scale circulation slow-down. For higher latitudes, the surface winds shift poleward along with the eddy-driven mid-latitude westerlies, resulting in a very small contribution to the global change in surface wind speed. Despite its importance for surface wind speed change, the influence of the SST pattern change on global-mean rainfall is insignificant since it cannot substantially alter the global energy balance. As a result, the precipitation response to global warming remains 'muted' relative to atmospheric moisture increase. Our results therefore show consistency between projections and observations of surface winds and precipitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124012
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 30 2016


  • global warming
  • precipitation
  • sea surface temperature
  • surface winds
  • walker circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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