Report

Abrupt shift to hotter and drier climate over inner East Asia beyond the tipping point

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Science  27 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6520, pp. 1095-1099
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb3368

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A dangerous trend

How anthropogenically driven climate change is affecting heat waves and drought is one of the most important environmental issues facing societies around the globe. Zhang et al. present a 260-year-long record of temperature and soil moisture over inner East Asia that reveals an abrupt shift to hotter and drier conditions (see the Perspective by Zhang and Fang). Extreme episodes of hotter and drier climate over the past 20 years, which are unprecedented in the earlier records, are caused by a positive feedback loop between soil moisture deficits and surface warming and potentially represent the start of an irreversible trend.

Science, this issue p. 1095; see also p. 1037

Abstract

Unprecedented heatwave-drought concurrences in the past two decades have been reported over inner East Asia. Tree-ring–based reconstructions of heatwaves and soil moisture for the past 260 years reveal an abrupt shift to hotter and drier climate over this region. Enhanced land-atmosphere coupling, associated with persistent soil moisture deficit, appears to intensify surface warming and anticyclonic circulation anomalies, fueling heatwaves that exacerbate soil drying. Our analysis demonstrates that the magnitude of the warm and dry anomalies compounding in the recent two decades is unprecedented over the quarter of a millennium, and this trend clearly exceeds the natural variability range. The “hockey stick”–like change warns that the warming and drying concurrence is potentially irreversible beyond a tipping point in the East Asian climate system.

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