Climate network percolation reveals the expansion and weakening of the tropical component under global warming

Jingfang Fan, Jun Meng, Yosef Ashkenazy, Shlomo Havlin, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

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26 Scopus citations


Global climate warming poses a significant challenge to humanity; it is associated with, e.g., rising sea level and declining Arctic sea ice. Increasing extreme events are also considered to be a result of climate warming, and they may have widespread and diverse effects on health, agriculture, economics, and political conflicts. Still, the detection and quantification of climate change, both in observations and climate models, constitute a main focus of the scientific community. Here, we develop an approach based on network and percolation frameworks to study the impacts of climate changes in the past decades using historical models and reanalysis records, and we analyze the expected upcoming impacts using various future global warming scenarios. We find an abrupt transition during the evolution of the climate network, indicating a consistent poleward expansion of the largest cluster that corresponds to the tropical area, as well as the weakening of the strength of links in the tropic. This is found both in the reanalysis data and in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) 21st century climate change simulations. The analysis is based on high-resolution surface (2 m) air temperature field records. We discuss the underlying mechanism for the observed expansion of the tropical cluster and associate it with changes in atmospheric circulation represented by the weakening and expansion of the Hadley cell. Our framework can also be useful for forecasting the extent of the tropical cluster to detect its influence on different areas in response to global warming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E12128-E12134
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - 26 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

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© 2018 National Academy of Sciences. All Rights Reserved.


  • Climate network
  • Global warming
  • Hadley cell
  • Percolation


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