Imprint of the Pacific Walker Circulation in global precipitation δ18O

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Georgina Maja Falster , Bronwen Konecky , Midhun Madhavan , Samantha Stevenson , Sloan Coats 


Characterising variability in the global water cycle is fundamental to predicting impacts of future climate change; understanding the role of the Pacific Walker circulation (PWC) in the regional expression of global water cycle changes is critical to understanding this variability. Water isotopes are ideal tracers of the role of the PWC in global water cycling, because they retain information about circulation-dependent processes including moisture source, transport, and delivery. We collated publicly-available measurements of precipitation δ18O (δ18OP), and used novel data processing techniques to synthesise long (34-year), globally-distributed composite records from temporally discontinuous δ18OP measurements. We investigated relationships between global-scale δ18OP variability and PWC strength, as well as other possible drivers of global δ18OP variability—including the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and global mean temperature—and used isotope-enabled climate model simulations to assess potential biases arising from uneven geographical distribution of the observations or our data processing methodology. Co-variability underlying the δ18OP composites is more strongly correlated with the PWC (r = 0.74) than any other index of climate variability tested. We propose that the PWC imprint in global δ18OP arises from multiple complementary processes, including PWC-related changes in moisture source and transport length, and a PWC- or ENSO-driven ‘amount effect’ in tropical regions. The clear PWC imprint in global δ18OP implies a strong PWC influence on the regional expression of global water cycle variability on interannual to decadal timescales, and hence that uncertainty in the future state of the PWC translates to uncertainties in future changes in the global water cycle.



Climate, Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Water isotopes, Pacific Walker Circulation


Published: 2021-07-31 00:09

Last Updated: 2021-08-26 19:20

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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