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Monday, March 15, 2010

Is There A 60-Year Pacific Decadal Oscillation Cycle?

I’ve moved to WordPress.  This post can now be found at Is There A 60-Year Pacific Decadal Oscillation Cycle?
INTRODUCTIONClimate bloggers often refer to a 60-year cycle in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). I assume they derive the 60-year period from the graph of the PDO, Figure 1, from the JISAO "Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)" web page. As illustrated the PDO data changes from positive to negative about 1945, reaches into positive values again about 1975, then appears to “switch” back to negative in the 2000s. Remarkably, this 60-year period is referred to even though the data before 1945 does not support a continuation before then. And referring to Paleoclimatological studies of the PDO, there is also no evidence of a persistent 60-year PDO cycle.
Figure 1

The NOAA Paleoclimatology Climate Reconstructions webpage includes 5 PDO reconstructions under the heading of Atmospheric Circulation Patterns. Figure 2 is a comparison graph of the data available from those studies. Note: All of the paleoclimatological PDO data in this post have been smoothed with a 30-year running-average filter to highlight the low frequency variability.
Figure 2

The longer-term dataset from MacDonald and Case (2005) skews the graph, so I’ve started the comparison in 1700 in Figure 3. There does not appear to be a persistent 60-year cycle in any of the PDO reconstruction datasets. If fact, there appears to be little agreement between the reconstructions prior to the early 1900s, but the datasets were, of course, based on different proxies and from different continents.
Figure 3

MacDonald and Case (2005)
Data Link:

DATA CITATION: MacDonald, G.M., and R.A. Case. 2006.
Pacific Decadal Oscillation Reconstruction for the Past Millennium.
IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology
Data Contribution Series # 2006-023.
NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA.

ORIGINAL REFERENCE: MacDonald, G.M., and R.A. Case. 2005.
Variations in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation over the past millennium.
Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L08703, doi:10.1029/2005GL022478.
Figure 4

D'Arrigo and Wilson (2006)
Data Link:

DATA CITATION: D'Arrigo, R. and R. Wilson. 2006.
Spring Pacific Decadal Oscillation Index Reconstruction.
IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology
Data Contribution Series # 2006-095.
NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA.

ORIGINAL REFERENCE: D'Arrigo, R. and R. Wilson. 2006.
On the Asian Expression of the PDO.
International Journal of Climatology. 26: 1607-1617.
Figure 5
Biondi et al (2001)
Data Link:

DATA CITATION: Biondi, F. et al., 2001,
Pacific Decadal Oscillation Reconstruction.
International Tree-Ring Data Bank.
IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology
Data Contribution Series #2001-001.
NOAA/NGDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA.

ORIGINAL REFERENCE: Biondi, F., A. Gershunov, and D.R. Cayan, 2001,
North Pacific decadal climate variability since AD 1661,
Journal of Climate, Volume 14, Number 1, January 2001.
Figure 6
Shen et al (2006)
Data Link:

DATA CITATION: Shen, C., et al. 2006.
Pacific Decadal Oscillation Reconstruction.
IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology
Data Contribution Series # 2006-045.
NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA.

Shen, C., W.-C. Wang, W. Gong, and Z. Hao. 2006.
A Pacific Decadal Oscillation record since 1470 AD reconstructed from proxy data of summer rainfall over eastern China.
Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 33, L03702, February 2006.
Figure 7

D'Arrigo et al (2005)
Data Link:

DATA CITATION: D'Arrigo, R., et al. 2005.
Pacific Decadal Oscillation Reconstruction.
IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology
Data Contribution Series # 2005-020.
NOAA/NGDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA.

ORIGINAL REFERENCE: D'Arrigo, R., R. Villalba, and G. Wiles. 2001.
Tree-ring estimates of Pacific decadal climate variability.
Climate Dynamics, Volume 18, Numbers 3-4, pp. 219-224, December 2001.
Figure 8

Misunderstandings about the PDO – REVISED

Revisiting “Misunderstandings About The PDO – Revised”


d said...

Is there a monthly estimation of OHC available?


Bob Tisdale said...

d: I haven't run across a monthly global OHC dataset yet. The NODC is quarterly and they've been updating within a month of the end of the last two quarters. Next one should be toward the end of next month hopefully.

d said...


Josh Willis 3 years ago had said he would provide monthly updates to OHC for public consumption. Quarterly is better than nothing though.

Historically, how do ENSO events affect OHC?

Andrew said...

I don't think these proxies can tell you anything about whether PDO has any periodicity, since it is clear that most of them probably don't reflect the PDO's past variations, given the fact that they look nothing alike at all.

Bob Tisdale said...

Andrew: Here’s a longer-term graph of annual PDO data (back to 1854) that’s based on the NCDC’s ERSST.v3b. It’s been smoothed with a 7-year filter. There’s no 60-year cycle:

Link to data:

Dominic said...


I've been meaning to thank you for your efforts in producing this site for months. It is superb.

Your post yesterday demonstrating the absence of the supposed 60yr PDO cycle has finally driven me to act.

I and doubtless many others come here for precisely this kind of data-centric, rigorous analysis.

Nothing else does such a good job of dispelling ignorance.

Please continue. You have created an invaluable resource.

(Since the above does not further any discussion of the actual post I do not expect you to show it in the comments).

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,

I just ran across this report on the 1918/1919 El Nino from the latest issues of the BAMS: http://ams.allenpress.com/archive/1520-0477/91/2/pdf/i1520-0477-91-2-177.pdf

The brief abstract states the following: "An ocean model, driven with surface boundary conditions from a recently completed atmospheric reanalysis of the first half of the twentieth century, is used to provide the first comprehensive description of the structure and evolution of the 1918/19 El Niño. In contrast with previous descriptions, the modeled El Niño is one of the strongest of the twentieth century, comparable in intensity to the prominent events of 1982/83 and 1997/98."

The authors conclude the following: "This study raises several questions about our
understanding of El Niño and a changing climate.
These questions include understanding how El Niño
changes both on decadal time scales and in response
to global warming. The model results suggest that
El Niño events in the beginning of the twentieth
century were comparable in magnitude to the strong
events in 1982/83 and 1997/98, raising the possibility
that El Niño strength has not increased significantly
in response to global warming. However, the model
results do show that El Niño events were stronger
at the beginning and end of the twentieth century,
with weaker events in the middle of the twentieth
century (Fig. 2)."

Any comments?

Dennis H.

Bob Tisdale said...

Dennis: Thanks for the link. The early version of this study...
...hit the blogs in September.

Here's a link to the 9-14-09 WUWT thread about the Giese et al 1918/1919 El Nino and flu epidemic press release:

I wrote a post about this a day later:

I wrote, Not to discount the work by Giese et al: a quick look at a graph of NINO3.4 SST anomalies that includes the 30 years before 1900, Figure 1, reveals that there were two comparably sized “Super” El Nino events in 1877/78 and 1888/89.

Thanks again for the link. BTW, didn't Brett post something similar at Accuweather around that time?

plazamoyua said...

Hello, and thank'ś for you very interesting posts.

If I am not wrong, the idea of the 60 year cycles related to climate and the sea comes from some FAO studies about fisheries done by Klyashtorin and Lyubushin. You may find some references googling [Klyashtorin+Lyubushin], as for example:


Bob Tisdale said...

plazamoyua: Thanks for the link and authors.


d said...

I watched your Youtube video on El Nino effects.

Is there a similarity between 97-98 El Nino and current? Should we expect another 'step change' in SST and surface temperatures?

With OHC being flat to a slight cooling the last several years, is it logical to postulate this El Nino may lead to steep drop in SST and surface temperatures in the coming months?

Joe Bastardi has recently eluded to the notion, not necessarily based on the above, that the current El Nino is pointing toward cold coming, not a resumption of global warming.

LT temps are sure rocketing upward this month. Looking at all the SST data you post, it sure looks like an enormous amount of heat being released.

What do you think?

Bob Tisdale said...

d: You asked, "Is there a similarity between 97-98 El Nino and current?"

The 1997/98 El Nino was a traditional (central and eastern tropical Pacific) El Nino. The 2009/10 El Nino was an El Nino Modoki. It was a central tropical Pacific El Nino.

You asked, "Should we expect another 'step change' in SST and surface temperatures?"

If there is a significant La Nina, the east Indian and West Pacific Oceans should respond with an upward shift.

Part of the apparent shift in TLT and LST anomalies in the mid-to-high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere resulted from the AMO, which was rising until 2005 and helping to maintain the temps at post 1997/98 El Nino levels. But the North Atlantic SST anomalies have been dropping since around 2005, so I can't say for sure that the shift will be as obvious.

Harrywr2 said...

OpenID plazamoyua said...

"If I am not wrong, the idea of the 60 year cycles related to climate"

The Chinese calender has two parts, a 12 year cycle and a 60 year cycle.

The 12 year cycle tracks roughly with sunspots.

The question is what does the 60 year cycle track with.

An astrologer would say it's when Jupiter and Saturn align. Jupiter and Saturn Align every 20(score) years, and align in roughly the same place in 60 years.

An astrophysicist would agree that the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter every 60 years has meaning, as Saturn and Jupiter determine the center of mass of the Solar System.

How the 60 year cycle plays out in earth's climate system is a bit of a mystery.

Anonymous said...

Re: Is there a 60-year PDO Cycle:

I find it interesting that there IS so little consistency among the several attempts. It may the effect of different continents, different analyses, and different researcher "tweaks" to the paleorecord, or a combination of the above. In the end, I suggest it underscores that paleoclimatology is a facet of science that has yet to be adequately established as having sufficient reliability on which to base major public policies. (In researcher lingo: "Needs more study.") The 30-year smoothing may also serve to hide things.

Also, I note an interesting relationship (beyond how they all come together after about 1950, in the instrument age). That is that D'Arrigo's work is almost completely a reverse of the plot of MacDonald. That relationship appears to fail after about 1900, however, but prior to then the inverse relationship appears very good.

Finally, I have seen other postings suggesting that the PDO may actually be comprised of several different oscillations of different periocidies. Given also the recent (2009?) establishment of the Central pacific El Nino (or El Nino Modoki), it may merely serve to show how much we have yet to learn.

Lucy Skywalker said...

Got here via your recent WUWT ref. First thought was, All the proxies are suspect, with that pre-instrumental divergence. Then I looked at individual reconstructions and the Shen recon just felt plausible. Trying to analyse and explain, my first thought was, there is a steady PATTERN ie nothing wildly unusual last 100 years, just evidence of cyclicity. And it fits the recently observed 60-year-approx cycle. Then I noticed that Shen used "proxy data for summer rainfall over eastern China" whereas all the others used treering data.

Just noticing. It does feel better and better, and though it scarcely constitutes proof, it is a lead to follow IMHO.

Incidentally, the astrophysics of the 60-year cycle is a bit more complex than Harrywr2 says. Jupiter and Saturn are CONJUNCT every 20 years, but each conjunction is nearly exactly 120° offset from the one before, thus after 60 years the (4th) conjunction returns to almost exactly the same position as the first. There may well be harmonics with other planets significant regarding the solar system barycentre, that only kick in every 60 years but I don't know. Tallbloke might know.


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