Articles | Volume 15, issue 1
18 Jan 2008
18 Jan 2008

North Atlantic climate variability in coupled models and data

S. K. Kravtsov, W. K. Dewar, M. Ghil, P. S. Berloff, and J. C. McWilliams

Abstract. We show that the observed zonally averaged jet in the Northern Hemisphere atmosphere exhibits two spatial patterns with broadband variability in the decadal and inter-decadal range; these patterns are consistent with an important role of local, mid-latitude ocean–atmosphere coupling. A key aspect of this behaviour is the fundamentally nonlinear bi-stability of the atmospheric jet's latitudinal position, which enables relatively small sea-surface temperature anomalies associated with ocean processes to affect the large-scale atmospheric winds. The wind anomalies induce, in turn, complex three-dimensional anomalies in the ocean's main thermocline; in particular, they may be responsible for recently reported cooling of the upper ocean. Both observed modes of variability, decadal and inter-decadal, have been found in our intermediate climate models. One mode resembles North Atlantic tri-polar sea-surface temperature (SST) patterns described elsewhere. The other mode, with mono-polar SST pattern, is novel; its key aspects include interaction of oceanic turbulence with the large-scale oceanic flow. To the extent these anomalies exist, the interpretation of observed climate variability in terms of natural and human-induced changes will be affected. Coupled mid-latitude ocean-atmosphere modes do, however, suggest some degree of predictability is possible.