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Northern hemisphere atmospheric response to changes of atlantic ocean SST on decadal time scales: a GCM experiment

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Analyses indicate that the Atlantic Ocean seasurface temperature (SST) was considerably colder at the beginning than in the middle of the century. In parallel, a systematic change in the North Atlantic sea-level pressure (SLP) pattern was observed. To find out whether the SST and SLP changes analyzed are consistent, which would indicate that the SST change was real and not an instrumental artifact, a response experiment with a low-resolution (T21) atmospheric GCM was performed. Two perpetual January simulations were conducted, which differ solely in the Atlantic Ocean (40° S-60° N) SST: the “cold” simulation utilizes the SSTs for the period 1904–1913; the “warm” simulation uses the SSTs for the period 1951–1960. Also, a “control” run with the model's standard SST somewhat between the “cold” and “warm” SST was made. For the response analysis, a rigorous statistical approach was taken. First, the null hypothesis of identical horizontal distributions was subjected to a multivariate significance test. Second, the level of recurrence was estimated. The multivariate statistical approaches are based on hierarchies of test models. We examined three different hierarchies: a scale-dependent hierarchy based on spherical harmonics (S), and two physically motivated ones, one based on the barotropic normal modes of the mean 300 hPa flow (B) and one based on the eigenmodes of the advection diffusion operator at 1000 hPa (A). The intercomparison of the “cold” and “warm” experiments indicates a signal in the geostrophic stream function that in the S-hierarchy is significantly nonzero and highly recurrent. In the A-hierarchy, the low level temperature field is identified as being significantly and recurrently affected by the altered SST distribution. The SLP signal is reasonably similar to the SLP change observed. Unexpectedly, the upper level stream-function signal does not appear to be significantly nonzero in the B-hierarchy. If, however, the pairs of experiments “warm versus control” and “cold versus control” are examined in the B-hierarchy, a highly significant and recurrent signal emerges. We conclude that the “cold versus warm” response is not a “small disturbance” that would allow the signal to be described by eigenmodes of the linear system. An analysis of the three-dimensional structure of the signal leads to the hypothesis that two different mechanisms are acting to modify the model's mean state. At low levels, local heating and advection are dominant, but at upper levels the extratropical signal is a remote responce to modifications of the tropical convection.

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Correspondence to Andreas Hense.

Additional information

This paper was presented at the International Conference on Modelling of Global Climate Change and Variability, held in Hamburg 11–15 September 1989 under the auspices of the Meteorological Institute of the University of Hamburg and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. Guest Editor for these papers is Dr. L. Dilmenil.

AWI Publication no. 254

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Hense, A., Glowienka-Hense, R., von Storch, H. et al. Northern hemisphere atmospheric response to changes of atlantic ocean SST on decadal time scales: a GCM experiment. Climate Dynamics 4, 157–174 (1990).

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  • Decadal Time Scale
  • Multivariate Statistical Approach
  • Advection Diffusion
  • Instrumental Artifact
  • Rigorous Statistical Approach