Disentangling the mechanisms of equatorial Pacific climate change.
Most state-of-art models project a reduced equatorial Pacific east-west temperature gradient and a weakened Walker circulation under global warming. However, the causes of this robust projection remain elusive. Here, we devise a series of slab ocean model experiments to diagnostically decompose the global warming response into the contributions from the direct carbon dioxide (CO2) forcing, sea ice changes, and regional ocean heat uptake. The CO2 forcing dominates the Walker circulation slowdown through enhancing the tropical tropospheric stability. Antarctic sea ice changes and local ocean heat release are the dominant drivers for reduced zonal temperature gradient over the equatorial Pacific, while the Southern Ocean heat uptake opposes this change. Corroborating our model experiments, multimodel analysis shows that the models with greater Southern Ocean heat uptake exhibit less reduction in the temperature gradient and less weakening of the Walker circulation. Therefore, constraining the tropical Pacific projection requires a better insight into Southern Ocean processes.