South China Sea impacts global climate

The continued warming in the South China Sea is likely to lead to increased precipitation in South Asia and East Asia and affect global weather

Climate  change  in  the  South  China  Sea  and  its  surrounding  areas could have “profound impacts” on  both  local and  global  climate patterns, a new study has found. The South China Sea, located in the eastern part of Southeast Asia, is a partially enclosed sea surrounded by Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. 

The South China Sea and its surrounding areas (SCSSA), which includes the Indo-Pacific Oceans, Southeast Asia, and the Tibetan Plateau, play a crucial role in the worldwide climate system. The region is marked by intense ocean-land-atmosphere interactions, making it highly susceptible to global climate change.

The study, published in Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Research journalstated that rapid warming is a defining feature of climate change in this area, affecting not only the South China Sea and its surroundings but also influencing weather patterns across the globe. This rapid warming is leading to increased rainfall during the Asian summer monsoon and significant shifts in the frequency and origin of tropical cyclones.

“Climate change in the South China Sea and its surrounding areas is very complex. It has a significant impact on shaping not only regional climates, but also exerting far-reaching impacts on weather and climate patterns across the globe,” said Song Yang, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China. 

One defining feature of this region are the three important wind patterns that overlap: the regional Hadley circulation, the Walker circulation, and the Asian monsoon circulation. These wind patterns, also known as circulations or cells, are vital for the global movement of air, connecting the local climate to the broader world.

Climate change is already causing shifts in the three overlapping wind patterns, which is expected to increase dry weather and decrease humidity in the extratropical regions. 

How will it impact climate in other parts of the globe?

“The  increased  latent heating  over  the  SCSSA  can  exert  effects  on  climate  variability  in  regions  such  as  North Africa,  South  Asia,  and  East  Asia,  while  surface  warming  of  the  Tibetan  Plateau  has  the  potential  to  induce  significant  climate  anomalies  in  southern  Europe  and  the  North Atlantic,” the study stated. 

Heating experienced in this region can influence weather patterns in distant areas, including the Arctic. Changes in the western Pacific and South Asian monsoon region may worsen droughts in North Africa due to air movement between the Pacific and Africa, the researchers found. 

As the climate gets warmer, South Asia, East Asia, and northern Australia will experience more rainfall. This is because as the sea surface gets warmer, there’s more water vapour in the air and the wind patterns over the South China Sea and nearby areas become stronger.

“Enhanced convection over the SCSSA can lead  to  anomalous  descending  motions,  causing  drought  in  southern  China,  South  Asia,  and northern  Africa  during  the  boreal  spring  and  summer,” the researchers wrote. 

Changes  in  the  Indo-Pacific  Oceans  and  Tibetan  Plateau  can  affect  not  only  downstream climates such as East  Asia,  North  America,  Antarctica,  and  South  America,  but  also  upstream  regions  like North  Africa,  South  Europe,  the  North  Atlantic, and  the  Middle  East.

According to the study, warming is expected to continue in the South China Sea, leading to increased precipitation in South Asia and East Asia, driven by rising atmospheric moisture. In a future warmer climate, the study predicts more severe impacts from super typhoons in the South China Sea. Additionally, Asian-Australian monsoon precipitation is expected to rise significantly, influenced by heightened atmospheric moisture content.

Source: Asian Scientist Magazine, 21 Feb 2024.

Link to full scientific article:
Global Effects of Climate Change in the South China Sea and Its Surrounding Areas