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Climate response to basin-scale warming and cooling of the North Atlantic Ocean

Sutton, R. ORCID: and Hodson, D. ORCID: (2007) Climate response to basin-scale warming and cooling of the North Atlantic Ocean. Journal of Climate, 20 (5). pp. 891-907. ISSN 1520-0442

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1175/JCLI4038.1


Using experiments with an atmospheric general circulation model, the climate impacts of a basin-scale warming or cooling of the North Atlantic Ocean are investigated. Multidecadal fluctuations with this pattern were observed during the twentieth century, and similar variations--but with larger amplitude--are believed to have occurred in the more distant past. It is found that in all seasons the response to warming the North Atlantic is strongest, in the sense of highest signal-to-noise ratio, in the Tropics. However there is a large seasonal cycle in the climate impacts. The strongest response is found in boreal summer and is associated with suppressed precipitation and elevated temperatures over the lower-latitude parts of North and South America. In August­-September-­October there is a significant reduction in the vertical shear in the main development region for Atlantic hurricanes. In winter and spring, temperature anomalies over land in the extratropics are governed by dynamical changes in circulation rather than simply reflecting a thermodynamic response to the warming or cooling of the ocean. The tropical climate response is primarily forced by the tropical SST anomalies, and the major features are in line with simple models of the tropical circulation response to diabatic heating anomalies. The extratropical climate response is influenced both by tropical and higher-latitude SST anomalies and exhibits nonlinear sensitivity to the sign of the SST forcing. Comparisons with multidecadal changes in sea level pressure observed in the twentieth century support the conclusion that the impact of North Atlantic SST change is most important in summer, but also suggest a significant influence in lower latitudes in autumn and winter. Significant climate impacts are not restricted to the Atlantic basin, implying that the Atlantic Ocean could be an important driver of global decadal variability. The strongest remote impacts are found to occur in the tropical Pacific region in June­-August and September­-November. Surface anomalies in this region have the potential to excite coupled ocean­atmosphere feedbacks, which are likely to play an important role in shaping the ultimate climate response.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > NCAS
ID Code:759
Publisher:American Meteorological Society

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