Climate network percolation reveals the expansion and weakening of the tropical component under global warming Academic Article uri icon


  • Global climate warming poses a significant challenge to humanity; it is associated with, e.g., rising sea level and declining Arctic sea ice. Increasing extreme events are also considered to be a result of climate warming~\cite{pachauri2014climate,ogorman_contrasting_2014} and they may have widespread and diverse effects on health, agriculture, economics and political conflicts \cite{hsiang2011civil,helbing_globally_2013,schleussner_armed-conflict_2016,carleton_social_2016}. Still, the detection and quantification of climate change, both in observations and climate models, constitute a main focus of the scientific community. Here we develop a new approach based on network and percolation frameworks \cite{cohen2010complex} to study the impacts of climate changes in the past decades using historical models and reanalysis records, and we analyze the expected upcoming impacts using various future global warming scenarios. More specifically, we classify the globe area into evolving percolation clusters and find a discontinuous phase transition, which indicates a consistent poleward expansion of the largest (tropical) cluster, as well as the weakening of the link's strength. This is found both in the reanalysis data and in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) twenty-first century climate change simulations~\cite{taylor2012overview}. The analysis is based on high resolution surface (2~m) air temperature field records. We discuss the underlying mechanism for the observed expansion of the tropical cluster and associate it with changes in atmospheric circulation represented by the weakening and expansion of the Hadley cell. Our framework can also be useful for forecasting the extent of the tropical cluster in order to detect its influence on different areas in response to global warming.

publication date

  • January 1, 2018