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Atlantic Ocean influence on a shift in European climate in the 1990s


European climate exhibits variability on a wide range of timescales. Understanding the nature and drivers of this variability is an essential step in developing robust climate predictions and risk assessments. The Atlantic Ocean has been suggested as an important driver of variability in European climate on decadal timescales1,2,3,4,5,6, but the importance of this influence in recent decades has been unclear, partly because of difficulties in separating the influence of the Atlantic Ocean from other contributions, for example, from the tropical Pacific Ocean and the stratosphere7,8,9,10,11,12. Here we analyse four data sets derived from observations to show that, during the 1990s, there was a substantial shift in European climate towards a pattern characterized by anomalously wet summers in northern Europe, and hot, dry, summers in southern Europe, with related shifts in spring and autumn. These changes in climate coincided with a substantial warming of the North Atlantic Ocean13, towards a state last seen in the 1950s. The patterns of European climate change in the 1990s are consistent with earlier changes attributed to the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean4,6 and provide compelling evidence that the Atlantic Ocean was the key driver. Our results suggest that the recent pattern of anomalies in European climate will persist as long as the North Atlantic Ocean remains anomalously warm.

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Figure 1: The AMO.
Figure 2: Anomalies in SAT during the recent warm phases of the AMO, relative to the intervening cool phase.
Figure 3: Anomalies in precipitation during the recent warm phases of the AMO, relative to the intervening cool phase.
Figure 4: Anomalies in SLP during the recent warm phases of the AMO, relative to intervening the cool phase.


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This research was supported by the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. R.T.S. and B.D. would like to thank D. Hodson for useful discussions about this work.

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The original idea for the study came from R.S., who also wrote most of the paper. B.D. carried out all the analyses and contributed to the writing. R.S. and B.D. worked together on the interpretation.

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Correspondence to Rowan T. Sutton.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Sutton, R., Dong, B. Atlantic Ocean influence on a shift in European climate in the 1990s. Nature Geosci 5, 788–792 (2012).

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