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North Atlantic Winter Climate Regimes: Spatial Asymmetry, Stationarity with Time, and Oceanic Forcing

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  • 1 CERFACS-SUC, Climate Modelling and Global Change Team, Toulouse, France, and NCAR, Climate Global Dynamics Division, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 CERFACS-SUC, Climate Modelling and Global Change Team, Toulouse, France
  • | 3 NCAR, Climate Global Dynamics Division, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

The observed low-frequency winter atmospheric variability of the North Atlantic–European region and its relationship with global surface oceanic conditions is investigated based on the climate and weather regimes paradigm.

Asymmetries between the two phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) are found in the position of the Azores high and, to a weaker extent, the Icelandic low. There is a significant eastward displacement or expansion toward Europe for the NAO+ climate regime compared to the NAO− regime. This barotropic signal is found in different datasets and for two quasi-independent periods of record (1900–60 and 1950–2001); hence, it appears to be intrinsic to the NAO+ phase. Strong spatial similarities between weather and climate regimes suggest that the latter, representing long time scale variability, can be interpreted as the time-averaging signature of much shorter time scale processes. Model results from the ARPEGE atmospheric general circulation model are used to validate observed findings. They confirm in particular the eastward shift of the Atlantic centers of action for the NAO+ phase and strongly suggest a synoptic origin as it can be extracted from daily analyses. These results bring together present-day climate variability and scenario studies where such an NAO shift was suggested, as it is shown that the last three decades are clearly dominated by the occurrence of NAO+ regimes when concentrations of greenhouse gases are rapidly increasing. These findings highlight that the displacement of the North Atlantic centers of action should be treated as a dynamical property of the North Atlantic atmosphere and not as a mean longitudinal shift of climatological entities in response to anthropogenic forcings.

The nonstationarity with time of the atmospheric variability is documented. Late-century decades differ from early ones by the predominance of NAO climate regimes versus others. In such a context, comments on the relevance of the station-based NAO index is provided. Both tropical and extratropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies alter the frequency distribution of the North Atlantic regimes. Evidence is presented that the so-called ridge regime is preferably excited during La Niña events, while the NAO regimes are associated with the North Atlantic SST tripole. The ARPEGE model results indicate that the tropical branch of the SST tripole affects the NAO regimes occurrence. Warm tropical SST anomalies are more efficient at exciting NAO− regimes than cold anomalies are at forcing NAO+ regimes. The extratropical portion of the North Atlantic SST tripole also seems to play a significant role in the model, tending to counteract the dominant influence of the tropical Atlantic basin on NAO regimes.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Christophe Cassou, NCAR, Climate Modelling and Global Change Team, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307. Email: cassou@ucar.edu

Abstract

The observed low-frequency winter atmospheric variability of the North Atlantic–European region and its relationship with global surface oceanic conditions is investigated based on the climate and weather regimes paradigm.

Asymmetries between the two phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) are found in the position of the Azores high and, to a weaker extent, the Icelandic low. There is a significant eastward displacement or expansion toward Europe for the NAO+ climate regime compared to the NAO− regime. This barotropic signal is found in different datasets and for two quasi-independent periods of record (1900–60 and 1950–2001); hence, it appears to be intrinsic to the NAO+ phase. Strong spatial similarities between weather and climate regimes suggest that the latter, representing long time scale variability, can be interpreted as the time-averaging signature of much shorter time scale processes. Model results from the ARPEGE atmospheric general circulation model are used to validate observed findings. They confirm in particular the eastward shift of the Atlantic centers of action for the NAO+ phase and strongly suggest a synoptic origin as it can be extracted from daily analyses. These results bring together present-day climate variability and scenario studies where such an NAO shift was suggested, as it is shown that the last three decades are clearly dominated by the occurrence of NAO+ regimes when concentrations of greenhouse gases are rapidly increasing. These findings highlight that the displacement of the North Atlantic centers of action should be treated as a dynamical property of the North Atlantic atmosphere and not as a mean longitudinal shift of climatological entities in response to anthropogenic forcings.

The nonstationarity with time of the atmospheric variability is documented. Late-century decades differ from early ones by the predominance of NAO climate regimes versus others. In such a context, comments on the relevance of the station-based NAO index is provided. Both tropical and extratropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies alter the frequency distribution of the North Atlantic regimes. Evidence is presented that the so-called ridge regime is preferably excited during La Niña events, while the NAO regimes are associated with the North Atlantic SST tripole. The ARPEGE model results indicate that the tropical branch of the SST tripole affects the NAO regimes occurrence. Warm tropical SST anomalies are more efficient at exciting NAO− regimes than cold anomalies are at forcing NAO+ regimes. The extratropical portion of the North Atlantic SST tripole also seems to play a significant role in the model, tending to counteract the dominant influence of the tropical Atlantic basin on NAO regimes.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Christophe Cassou, NCAR, Climate Modelling and Global Change Team, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307. Email: cassou@ucar.edu

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