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The role of the stratosphere in the European climate response to El Niño


El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the largest natural interannual climate signal in the tropics; oscillations between warm El Niño and cold La Niña phases occur every few years. The effects are felt not only in the centre of action, the tropical Pacific region, but around the globe. Observational studies show a clear response in European climate to ENSO in late winter1. However, the underlying mechanisms of the link are not yet understood. Here we use a general circulation model of the atmosphere, that has been extended into the upper atmospheric layers, to provide end-to-end evidence for a global teleconnection pathway from the Pacific region to Europe via the stratosphere. We present evidence for an active stratospheric role in the transition to cold conditions in northern Europe and mild conditions in southern Europe in late winter during El Niño years. In our experiments, this mechanism is restricted to years when stratospheric sudden warmings occur. The response in European surface climate to the El Niño signal is large enough to be useful for seasonal forecasting.

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Figure 1: Composite surface climate response to El Niño.
Figure 2: Modelled El Niño perturbations to tropospheric/stratospheric geopotential height.
Figure 3: Modelled lower stratospheric climate response to El Niño.
Figure 4: Downward progression of El Niño climate signal from the stratosphere to the troposphere.
Figure 5: Modelled surface climate response to El Niño associated with a weak and strong polar vortex.


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This work is supported by the joint DECC and MoD Integrated Climate Programme (DECC) GA01101 (MoD) CBC/2B/0417_Annex C5 and by the EU Framework 6 Programme under contract 003903-GOCE (DYNAMITE).

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S.I. and A.A.S. carried out the analysis and wrote the paper. The vertically extended version of the climate model was developed by A.A.S. and others at the Met Office Hadley Centre.

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Correspondence to S. Ineson.

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Ineson, S., Scaife, A. The role of the stratosphere in the European climate response to El Niño. Nature Geosci 2, 32–36 (2009).

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