Climate Dynamics

, Volume 23, Issue 3–4, pp 391–405 | Cite as

Twentieth century North Atlantic climate change. Part II: Understanding the effect of Indian Ocean warming

  • M. P. HoerlingEmail author
  • J. W. Hurrell
  • T. Xu
  • G. T. Bates
  • A. S. Phillips


Ensembles of atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) experiments are used in an effort to understand the boreal winter Northern Hemisphere (NH) extratropical climate response to the observed warming of tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) over the last half of the twentieth Century. Specifically, we inquire about the origins of unusual, if not unprecedented, changes in the wintertime North Atlantic and European climate that are well described by a linear trend in most indices of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The simulated NH atmospheric response to the linear trend component of tropic-wide SST change since 1950 projects strongly onto the positive polarity of the NAO and is a hemispheric pattern distinguished by decreased (increased) Arctic (middle latitude) sea level pressure. Progressive warming of the Indian Ocean is the principal contributor to this wintertime extratropical response, as shown through additional AGCM ensembles forced with only the SST trend in that sector. The Indian Ocean influence is further established through the reproducibility of results across three different models forced with identical, idealized patterns of the observed warming. Examination of the transient atmospheric adjustment to a sudden “switch-on” of an Indian Ocean SST anomaly reveals that the North Atlantic response is not consistent with linear theory and most likely involves synoptic eddy feedbacks associated with changes in the North Atlantic storm track. The tropical SST control exerted over twentieth century regional climate underlies the importance of determining the future course of tropical SST for regional climate change and its uncertainty. Better understanding of the extratropical responses to different, plausible trajectories of the tropical oceans is key to such efforts.


Indian Ocean North Atlantic Oscillation North Atlantic Oscillation Index Tropical Indian Ocean Atmospheric General Circulation Model 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag  2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. P. Hoerling
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. W. Hurrell
    • 2
  • T. Xu
    • 1
  • G. T. Bates
    • 1
  • A. S. Phillips
    • 2
  1. 1.Climate Diagnostics Center NOAABoulderUSA
  2. 2.National Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA

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