Oceanic forcing of the wintertime North Atlantic Oscillation and European climate


The weather over the North Atlantic Ocean, particularly in winter, is often characterized by strong eastward air-flow between the ‘Icelandic low’ and the ‘Azores high’, and by a ‘stormtrack’ of weather systems which move towards western Europe. The North Atlantic Oscillation — an index of which can be defined as the difference in atmospheric pressure at sea level between the Azores and Iceland — is an important mode of variability in the global atmosphere1,2 and is intimately related to the position and strength of the North Atlantic stormtrack owing to dynamic processes internal to the atmosphere3,4. Here we use a general circulation model of the atmosphere to investigate the ocean's role in forcing North Atlantic and European climate. Our simulations indicate that much of the multiannual to multidecadal variability of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation over the past half century may be reconstructed from a knowledge of North Atlantic sea surface temperature. We argue that sea surface temperature characteristics are ‘communicated’ to the atmosphere through evaporation, precipitation and atmospheric-heating processes, leading to changes in temperature, precipitation and storminess over Europe. As it has recently been proposed that there may be significant multiannual predictability of North Atlantic sea surface temperature patterns5, our results are encouraging for the prediction of European winter climate up to several years in advance.

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Figure 1: Time series of the North Atlantic Oscillation index.
Figure 2: NAO/SST regressions.
Figure 3: Model inputs and simulated responses.


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We thank C. Gordon, T. Basnett, C. Cooper, B. Horton, W. Ingram and D. Sexton for their help and comments. This work was supported by the Public Meteorological Service; computer time was provided by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

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Correspondence to M. J. Rodwell.

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Rodwell, M., Rowell, D. & Folland, C. Oceanic forcing of the wintertime North Atlantic Oscillation and European climate. Nature 398, 320–323 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/18648

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