How climate controls tropical cyclone variability has critical implications for modern human society but is not well understood due to the short length of observational records. To probe this knowledge gap, we present a synthesis of intense typhoon activity from the northwestern Pacific over the past 2000 years, which is supported by a new, well-resolved tidal flat sedimentary record from the Jiangsu coast, eastern China. The record reveals nine intervals of typhoon frequency, indicating that the frequency of intense typhoons has varied on multi-centennial scales over the past 2000 years. Our synthesis shows strong evidence for a seesaw pattern of intense typhoon frequency between southeastern China and Japan and Korea. This pattern can be explained by the El Niño and Southern Oscillation−East Asian Monsoon−sea surface temperature hypothesis, which potentially explains the basin-wide typhoon climate in the northwestern Pacific region. A shift in typhoon activity was identified from 550−280 to 280−50 yr B.P. during the Little Ice Age, when typhoon activity changed from active to quiescent or vice versa. Centennial-scale shifts in Intertropical Convergence Zone and Western Pacific Warm Pool sea surface temperature are likely to be the primary forcing mechanisms driving this shift. Results obtained here provide links between typhoon activity and the El Niño and Southern Oscillation, the East Asian Monsoon, and the Western Pacific Warm Pool sea surface temperature, and therefore improve our ability to fully assess intense typhoon activity in future climate warming.

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