Climate Dynamics

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 265-279

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Low-frequency variability of the arctic climate: the role of oceanic and atmospheric heat transport variations

  • Johann H. JungclausAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie Email author 
  • , Torben KoenigkAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie


Changes in meridional heat transports, carried either by the atmosphere (HTRA) or by the ocean (HTRO), have been proposed to explain the decadal to multidecadal climate variations in the Arctic. On the other hand, model simulations indicate that, at high northern latitudes, variations in HTRA and HTRO are strongly coupled and may even compensate each other. A multi-century control integration with the Max Planck Institute global atmosphere-ocean model is analyzed to investigate the relative role of the HTRO and HTRA variations in shaping the Arctic climate and the consequences of their possible compensation. In the simulation, ocean heat transport anomalies modulate sea ice cover and surface heat fluxes mainly in the Barents Sea/Kara Sea region and the atmosphere responds with a modified pressure field. In response to positive HTRO anomalies there are negative HTRA anomalies associated with an export of relatively warm air southward to Western Siberia and a reduced inflow of heat over Alaska and northern Canada. While the compensation mechanism is prominent in this model, its dominating role is not constant over long time scales. The presence or absence of the compensation is determined mainly by the atmospheric circulation in the Pacific sector of the Arctic where the two leading large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns determine the lateral fluxes with varying contributions. The degree of compensation also determines the heat available to modulate the large-scale Arctic climate. The combined effect of atmospheric and oceanic contributions has to be considered to explain decadal-scale warming or cooling trends.


Decadal to multidecadal climate variability Barents Sea Arctic climate Global coupled atmosphere-ocean modeling Coupled atmosphere-ocean-sea ice processes