A century and a half of change in the climate of the NE Pacific

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ABSTRACT

Spectral analysis of twenty-one climate records indicates that NE Pacific temperatures and winter wind stress have fluctuated at four dominant time scales in this century: 2–3 years (quasi-biennial oscillation), 5–7 years (El Nin̈o-Southern Oscillation, ENSO), 20–25 years (bidecadal oscillation, BDO), and a poorly resolved, very-low-frequency (VLF) oscillation with a 50–75 year period. Forty-four per cent of the low-frequency variability in British Columbia air temperatures is associated with the strength of the Aleutian Low pressure system in winter. Only 42% of the ‘strong’ and 25% of the ‘moderate’ ENSO events in this century have produced large warm anomalies off BC. Interactions between the ENSO, bidecadal and very-low-frequency oscillations produce a pattern of alternating warm and cool climate states, with major warnings every 50 to 75 years. Since 1850 there have been seven warm periods, lasting an average of 11.4 years, and six cool periods lasting an average of 10.8 years. Sharp transitions from cool to warm climate states (as in 1977/78) occur when warming phases of the BDO and VLF oscillations coincide. Recent evidence suggests that the BDO may originate in either the tropical or the subtropical North Pacific. The NE Pacific has experienced a major warming since 1978. A long-range forecast suggests that the BDO and VLF oscillations peaked in 1989 and are currently in a cooling phase. Consequently, coastal temperatures should moderate for the rest of this century. A transition to the next cool climate state could occur about the year 2001. The forecast for moderating temperatures could begin the first phase of the recovery of the southern BC coastal chinook and coho salmon and herring stocks, which are currently at low abundance levels.

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