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The Roles of External Forcings and Internal Variabilities in the Northern Hemisphere Atmospheric Circulation Change from the 1960s to the 1990s

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  • 1 Arctic Region Supercomputing Center, and International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska
  • | 2 Earth System Physics Section, Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy
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Abstract

The Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation change from the 1960s to the 1990s shows a strong positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and a deepening of the Aleutian low. The issue regarding the contributions of external forcings and internal atmospheric variability to this circulation change has not been resolved satisfactorily. Previous studies have found the importance of tropical SST forcing. Here, this hypothesis is examined again using relatively large ensembles of atmospheric general circulation model simulations of the twentieth-century climate forced only by historically varying SST. The resulting ensemble-mean amplitude underestimates the observed change by at least 70%, although the spatial pattern is reproduced well qualitatively. Furthermore, AGCM experiments are performed to investigate other driving factors, such as the greenhouse gases, sea ice, the stratospheric ozone, as well as the contribution from atmospheric internal variability. The increase in ensemble-mean trend amplitude induced by these additional drivers was not enough to substantially improve the agreement with the observed trend. However, the full distribution of simulated trends reveals that the ensemble members at the upper tail are much closer to the observed amplitude. In the “best” ensemble, the 95th percentile of the simulated NAO trend amplitude remains at about 80% of the observed trend amplitude, with nearly equal contributions from external forcings and internal variability. The results also indicate that a complete set of driving factors and a correct simulation of stratospheric trends are important in bridging the gap between observed and modeled interdecadal variability in the North Atlantic winter circulation.

* Current affiliation: ECMWF, Reading, United Kingdom

Corresponding author address: Martin P. King, School of Engineering, Monash University, Jalan Lagoon Selatan, Bandar Sunway, 46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Email: martin.p.king@gmail.com

Abstract

The Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation change from the 1960s to the 1990s shows a strong positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and a deepening of the Aleutian low. The issue regarding the contributions of external forcings and internal atmospheric variability to this circulation change has not been resolved satisfactorily. Previous studies have found the importance of tropical SST forcing. Here, this hypothesis is examined again using relatively large ensembles of atmospheric general circulation model simulations of the twentieth-century climate forced only by historically varying SST. The resulting ensemble-mean amplitude underestimates the observed change by at least 70%, although the spatial pattern is reproduced well qualitatively. Furthermore, AGCM experiments are performed to investigate other driving factors, such as the greenhouse gases, sea ice, the stratospheric ozone, as well as the contribution from atmospheric internal variability. The increase in ensemble-mean trend amplitude induced by these additional drivers was not enough to substantially improve the agreement with the observed trend. However, the full distribution of simulated trends reveals that the ensemble members at the upper tail are much closer to the observed amplitude. In the “best” ensemble, the 95th percentile of the simulated NAO trend amplitude remains at about 80% of the observed trend amplitude, with nearly equal contributions from external forcings and internal variability. The results also indicate that a complete set of driving factors and a correct simulation of stratospheric trends are important in bridging the gap between observed and modeled interdecadal variability in the North Atlantic winter circulation.

* Current affiliation: ECMWF, Reading, United Kingdom

Corresponding author address: Martin P. King, School of Engineering, Monash University, Jalan Lagoon Selatan, Bandar Sunway, 46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Email: martin.p.king@gmail.com

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