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Variability of the North Atlantic Oscillation over the past 5,200 years


Climate in the Arctic region and northwestern Europe is strongly affected by the North Atlantic Oscillation1,2 (NAO), the dominant mode of atmospheric variability at mid-latitudes in the North Atlantic region. The NAO index is an indicator of atmospheric circulation and weather patterns: when the index is positive, Europe and the eastern US are mild and wet, whereas Greenland and northern Canada are cold and dry. A negative index is associated with the reverse pattern. Reconstructions of the NAO have so far been limited to the past 900 years3. Here we analyse a 5,200-year-long, high-resolution lake sediment record from southwestern Greenland to reconstruct lake hypolimnic anoxia, and link the results to an existing reconstruction of the NAO index from tree rings and speleothems3. Using the relationship between the two records, we find that around 4,500 and 650 years ago—around the end of the Holocene Thermal Maximum and the beginning of the Little Ice Age, respectively—the NAO changed from generally positive to variable, intermittently negative conditions. We suggest that variability in the dominant state of the NAO tend to coincide with large-scale changes in Northern Hemisphere climate. However, the onset of the Medieval Climate Anomaly was not associated with any notable changes in the NAO.

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Figure 1: Instrumental climate and limnological data from Lake SS1220 (August 2001 and August 2004) and the Kangerlussuaq area.
Figure 2: Linking in-lake palaeo-redox variability to NAO reconstructions.
Figure 3: Redox-variability and inferred NAO circulation patterns over the past 5 kyr.
Figure 4: Characteristic NAO periodicities—instrumental and palaeo data.


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J.O. and M.F.K. were supported by the Carlsberg Foundation (Grants 2006_01_0451, 2007_01_0417 and 2008_01_0416). Fieldwork and collection of the local meteorological data was supported by a Danish Research Council award to N.J.A. (SNF: 21-00-0288).

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J.O. and N.J.A. designed the study. Fieldwork was undertaken by N.J.A., while J.O. did the primary data collection. J.O. and M.F.K. did the statistical analyses and all authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jesper Olsen.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Olsen, J., Anderson, N. & Knudsen, M. Variability of the North Atlantic Oscillation over the past 5,200 years. Nature Geosci 5, 808–812 (2012).

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