Nature 453, 84-88 (1 May 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06921; Received 25 June 2007; Accepted 14 March 2008; Corrected 8 May 2008

Advancing decadal-scale climate prediction in the North Atlantic sector

N. S. Keenlyside1, M. Latif1, J. Jungclaus2, L. Kornblueh2 & E. Roeckner2

  1. Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany
  2. Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstras zlige 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

Correspondence to: N. S. Keenlyside1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to N.S.K. (Email: nkeenlyside@ifm-geomar.de.).

The climate of the North Atlantic region exhibits fluctuations on decadal timescales that have large societal consequences. Prominent examples include hurricane activity in the Atlantic1, and surface-temperature and rainfall variations over North America2, Europe3 and northern Africa4. Although these multidecadal variations are potentially predictable if the current state of the ocean is known5, 6, 7, the lack of subsurface ocean observations8 that constrain this state has been a limiting factor for realizing the full skill potential of such predictions9. Here we apply a simple approach—that uses only sea surface temperature (SST) observations—to partly overcome this difficulty and perform retrospective decadal predictions with a climate model. Skill is improved significantly relative to predictions made with incomplete knowledge of the ocean state10, particularly in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific oceans. Thus these results point towards the possibility of routine decadal climate predictions. Using this method, and by considering both internal natural climate variations and projected future anthropogenic forcing, we make the following forecast: over the next decade, the current Atlantic meridional overturning circulation will weaken to its long-term mean; moreover, North Atlantic SST and European and North American surface temperatures will cool slightly, whereas tropical Pacific SST will remain almost unchanged. Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming.


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