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Mechanisms of the atmospheric response to North Atlantic multidecadal variability: a model study

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Abstract

The atmospheric circulation response to decadal fluctuations of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) in the IPSL climate model is investigated using the associated sea surface temperature signature. A SST anomaly is prescribed in sensitivity experiments with the atmospheric component of the IPSL model coupled to a slab ocean. The prescribed SST anomaly in the North Atlantic is the surface signature of the MOC influence on the atmosphere detected in the coupled simulation. It follows a maximum of the MOC by a few years and resembles the model Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. It is mainly characterized by a warming of the North Atlantic south of Iceland, and a cooling of the Nordic Seas. There are substantial seasonal variations in the geopotential height response to the prescribed SST anomaly, with an East Atlantic Pattern-like response in summer and a North Atlantic oscillation-like signal in winter. In summer, the response of the atmosphere is global in scale, resembling the climatic impact detected in the coupled simulation, albeit with a weaker amplitude. The zonally asymmetric or eddy part of the response is characterized by a trough over warm SST associated with changes in the stationary waves. A diagnostic analysis with daily data emphasizes the role of transient-eddy forcing in shaping and maintaining the equilibrium response. We show that in response to an intensified MOC, the North Atlantic storm tracks are enhanced and shifted northward during summer, consistent with a strengthening of the westerlies. However the anomalous response is weak, which suggests a statistically significant but rather modest influence of the extratropical SST on the atmosphere. The winter response to the MOC-induced North Atlantic warming is an intensification of the subtropical jet and a southward shift of the Atlantic storm track activity, resulting in an equatorward shift of the polar jet. Although the SST anomaly is only prescribed in the Atlantic ocean, significant impacts are found globally, indicating that the Atlantic ocean can drive a large scale atmospheric variability at decadal timescales. The atmospheric response is highly non-linear in both seasons and is consistent with the strong interaction between transient eddies and the mean flow. This study emphasizes that decadal fluctuations of the MOC can affect the storm tracks in both seasons and lead to weak but significant dynamical changes in the atmosphere.

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Notes

  1. Because of the short observed timeseries of SST changes, it is difficult to identify an oscillation and thus the AMO is also referred to as the Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV).

  2. This is not a particularity of the IPSL model as in several climate models the surface signature of the MOC is strongest at high latitudes and weak in the tropics.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Christophe Cassou, Jérome Sirven, Isaac Held, Ying Li, and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Computer resources were allocated by IDRIS, the computer center of the CNRS in Paris. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s 7th framework programme (FP7/2007-1013) under grant agreement No. GA212643 (THOR: “Thermohaline Overturning-at Risk”, 2008–2012. Support to CF from the Institut Universitaire de France, is gratefully acknowledged.

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Msadek, R., Frankignoul, C. & Li, L.Z.X. Mechanisms of the atmospheric response to North Atlantic multidecadal variability: a model study. Clim Dyn 36, 1255–1276 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-010-0958-0

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