Abstract

This study reveals a marked enhancement in the relationship between the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and North Atlantic tripole (NAT) sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly pattern during boreal spring since the late 1980s. A comparative analysis is conducted for two periods before and after the late 1980s to understand the reasons for the above interdecadal change. During both periods, SST cooling in the northern tropical Atlantic during the positive phase of the NAT SST pattern results in an anomalous anticyclone over the subtropical western North Atlantic via a Rossby wave–type atmospheric response. The westerly wind anomalies along the north flank of the anomalous anticyclone are accompanied by a marked decrease in synoptic-scale eddies over the midlatitudes as well as cyclonic (anticyclonic) vorticity forcings at the north (south) side. As such, an NAO-like dipole atmospheric anomaly is induced over the North Atlantic, which in turn helps to maintain the NAT SST anomaly via modulating surface heat fluxes. The intensity of the synoptic-scale eddy feedback to mean flow is stronger after than before the late 1980s, which is related to interdecadal increase in the intensity of North Atlantic synoptic-scale eddies. This is followed by a stronger NAO-like atmospheric response to the NAT SST anomaly since the late 1980s. Further analysis shows that changes in the spatial structure of the spring NAO may also partly contribute to changes in the spring NAO–NAT SST connection around the late 1980s. In particular, spring NAO-related atmospheric anomalies are weaker and shift northward before the late 1980s, which reduces the contribution of the NAO to a tripole SST anomaly pattern in the North Atlantic.

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