Increased variability of the western Pacific subtropical high under greenhouse warming
June 09,2022

Kai Yang, Wenju Cai, Gang Huang, Kaiming Hu, Benjamin Ng , and Guojian Wang

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, May 2022


The western Pacific subtropical high (WPSH) channels moisture from the tropics that underpins the East Asian summer climate. Interannual variability of the WPSH dominates climate extremes in the densely populated countries of East Asia. In 2020, an anomalously strong WPSH led to catastrophic floods with hundreds of deaths, 28,000 homes destroyed, and tens of billions in economic damage in China alone. How the frequency of such strong WPSH events will change is of great societal concern. Our finding of an increase in future WPSH variability, translating into an increased frequency of climate extreme as seen in the 2020 episode, highlights the increased risks for the billions of people in the densely populated East Asia with profound socioeconomic consequences.


An anomalous strengthening in western Pacific subtropical high (WPSH) increases moisture transport from the tropics to East Asia, inducing anomalous boreal summer monsoonal rainfall, causing extreme weather events in the densely populated region. Such positive WPSH anomalies can be induced by central Pacific (CP) cold sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies of an incipient La Niña and warm anomalies in the Indian and/or the tropical Atlantic Ocean, both promoting anticyclonic anomalies over the northwestern Pacific region. How variability of the WPSH, its extremity, and the associated mechanisms might respond to greenhouse warming remains elusive. Using outputs from 32 of the latest climate models, here we show an increase in WPSH variability translating into a 73% increase in frequency of strong WPSH events under a business-as-usual emission scenario, supported by a strong intermodel consensus. Under greenhouse warming, response of tropical atmosphere convection to CP SST anomalies increases, as does the response of the northwestern Pacific anticyclonic circulation. Thus, climate extremes such as floods in the Yangtze River Valley of East China associated with WPSH variability are likely to be more frequent and more severe.

Yang, K., Cai, W., Huang, G., et al. 2022. Increased variability of the western Pacific subtropical high under greenhouse warming. Journal of Climate, 119 (23) e2120335119.

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