The contentious "pause" in global warming over the past decade is due to strong trade winds in the Pacific ocean that have submerged surface heat deep underwater, according to researchers.
A joint Australian-US study analysed why the rise in the earth's average surface temperature had slowed since 2001, after rapidly increasing from the 1970s.
The research shows that accelerating trade winds in central and eastern areas of the Pacific have driven warm surface water to the ocean's depths, reducing the amount of heat that flows into the atmosphere.
In turn, the lowering of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific triggers further cooling in other regions.
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, calculated the net cooling effect to global average surface temperatures as between 0.1 degrees Celsius and 0.2 degrees, accounting for much of the hiatus in surface warming. The study's authors said that there had been a 0.2 degrees gap between models used to predict warming and actual observed warming since 2001.
The findings should provide certainty about the reasons behind the warming hiatus, which had been used by critics of climate science as evidence that the models were flawed and predictions of rising temperatures had been exaggerated.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change addressed the warming pause issue in its 2013 climate report.
It said that the earth was going through a solar minimum and that more than 90 per cent of the world's extra heat was being soaked up by the oceans, rather than lingering on the surface.
Matthew England of the University of New South Wales in Sydney was the climate scientist who led the research.