Arctic Oscillation or North Atlantic Oscillation?

Maarten H. P. Ambaum Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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Brian J. Hoskins Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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David B. Stephenson Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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Abstract

The definition and interpretation of the Arctic oscillation (AO) are examined and compared with those of the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO). It is shown that the NAO reflects the correlations between the surface pressure variability at its centers of action, whereas this is not the case for the AO. The NAO pattern can be identified in a physically consistent way in principal component analysis applied to various fields in the Euro-Atlantic region. A similar identification is found in the Pacific region for the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern, but no such identification is found here for the AO. The AO does reflect the tendency for the zonal winds at 35° and 55°N to anticorrelate in both the Atlantic and Pacific regions associated with the NAO and PNA. Because climatological features in the two ocean basins are at different latitudes, the zonally symmetric nature of the AO does not mean that it represents a simple modulation of the circumpolar flow. An increase in the AO or NAO implies strong, separated tropospheric jets in the Atlantic but a weakened Pacific jet. The PNA has strong related variability in the Pacific jet exit, but elsewhere the zonal wind is similar to that related to the NAO. The NAO-related zonal winds link strongly through to the stratosphere in the Atlantic sector. The PNA-related winds do so in the Pacific, but to a lesser extent. The results suggest that the NAO paradigm may be more physically relevant and robust for Northern Hemisphere variability than is the AO paradigm. However, this does not disqualify many of the physical mechanisms associated with annular modes for explaining the existence of the NAO.

Corresponding author address: Dr. M. H. P. Ambaum, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, P.O. Box 243, Reading RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: m.h.p.ambaum@reading.ac.uk

Abstract

The definition and interpretation of the Arctic oscillation (AO) are examined and compared with those of the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO). It is shown that the NAO reflects the correlations between the surface pressure variability at its centers of action, whereas this is not the case for the AO. The NAO pattern can be identified in a physically consistent way in principal component analysis applied to various fields in the Euro-Atlantic region. A similar identification is found in the Pacific region for the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern, but no such identification is found here for the AO. The AO does reflect the tendency for the zonal winds at 35° and 55°N to anticorrelate in both the Atlantic and Pacific regions associated with the NAO and PNA. Because climatological features in the two ocean basins are at different latitudes, the zonally symmetric nature of the AO does not mean that it represents a simple modulation of the circumpolar flow. An increase in the AO or NAO implies strong, separated tropospheric jets in the Atlantic but a weakened Pacific jet. The PNA has strong related variability in the Pacific jet exit, but elsewhere the zonal wind is similar to that related to the NAO. The NAO-related zonal winds link strongly through to the stratosphere in the Atlantic sector. The PNA-related winds do so in the Pacific, but to a lesser extent. The results suggest that the NAO paradigm may be more physically relevant and robust for Northern Hemisphere variability than is the AO paradigm. However, this does not disqualify many of the physical mechanisms associated with annular modes for explaining the existence of the NAO.

Corresponding author address: Dr. M. H. P. Ambaum, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, P.O. Box 243, Reading RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: m.h.p.ambaum@reading.ac.uk

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