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Extreme climate of the global troposphere and stratosphere in 1940–42 related to El Niño


Although the El Niño/Southern Oscillation phenomenon is the most prominent mode of climate variability1 and affects weather and climate in large parts of the world, its effects on Europe and the high-latitude stratosphere are controversial2,3,4,5. Using historical observations and reconstruction techniques, we analyse the anomalous state of the troposphere and stratosphere in the Northern Hemisphere from 1940 to 1942 that occurred during a strong and long-lasting El Niño event. Exceptionally low surface temperatures in Europe and the north Pacific Ocean coincided with high temperatures in Alaska. In the lower stratosphere, our reconstructions show high temperatures over northern Eurasia and the north Pacific Ocean, and a weak polar vortex. In addition, there is observational evidence for frequent stratospheric warmings and high column ozone at Arctic and mid-latitude sites. We compare our historical data for the period 1940–42 with more recent data and a 650-year climate model simulation. We conclude that the observed anomalies constitute a recurring extreme state of the global troposphere–stratosphere system in northern winter that is related to strong El Niño events.

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Figure 1: Consistent northern winter climate extremes related to strong El Niño events.
Figure 2: Climate indices and total ozone series from 1900 to 2003 (left) and composite series for the 26 strongest El Niño years (preceding and following 4 yr are also shown) in the CCSM-2.0 control run (right).
Figure 3: The 1940–42 total ozone anomaly.

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S.B. was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Holderbank Foundation and the Janggen-Poehn Foundation. J.L. was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (NCCR climate). Surface temperature and NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data were provided by Climatic Research Unit, (Norwich, UK) and the NOAA-CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center (Boulder, USA), respectively. SLP and CCSM-2.0 data were provided by NCAR/UCAR (Boulder, USA). We thank P. Della-Marta for English corrections.

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Correspondence to S. Brönnimann.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

El Niño index NINO3.4 and several monthly climate index series for the northern extratropics for the period 1938 to 1944. (PDF 264 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Northern summer (May to August) and fall (September to December) surface temperature anomalies averaged for 1940 and 1941 as well as corresponding fields averaged during the 26 strongest El Niño years in the CCSM-2.0 control run. (PDF 1361 kb)

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Brönnimann, S., Luterbacher, J., Staehelin, J. et al. Extreme climate of the global troposphere and stratosphere in 1940–42 related to El Niño. Nature 431, 971–974 (2004).

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