Witnessing North Atlantic westerlies variability from ships’ logbooks (1685–2008)
A monthly index based on the persistence of the westerly winds over the English Chanel is constructed for 1685–2008 using daily data from ships’ logbooks and comprehensive marine meteorological datasets. The so-called Westerly Index (WI) provides the longest instrumental record of atmospheric circulation currently available. Anomalous WI values are associated with spatially coherent climatic signals in temperature and precipitation over large areas of Europe, which are stronger for precipitation than for temperature and in winter and summer than in transitional seasons. Overall, the WI series accord with the known European climatic history, and reveal that the frequency of the westerlies in the eastern Atlantic during the twentieth century and the Late Maunder Minimum was not exceptional in the context of the last three centuries. It is shown that the WI provides additional and complementary information to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) indices. The analysis of WI series during the industrial era indicates an overall good agreement with the winter and high-summer NAO, with the exception of several multidecadal periods of weakened correlation. These decoupled periods between the frequency and the intensity of the zonal flow are interpreted on the basis of several sources of non-stationarity affecting the centres of the variability of the North Atlantic and their teleconnections. Comparisons with NAO reconstructions and long instrumental indices extending back to the seventeenth century suggest that similar situations have occurred in the past, which call for caution when reconstructing the past atmospheric circulation from climatic proxies. The robustness and extension of its climatic signal, the length of the series and its instrumental nature make the WI an excellent benchmark for proxy calibration in Europe and Greenland.
KeywordsAtmospheric circulation index Climate variability and change Early instrumental data North Atlantic Oscillation
This work has been supported by the “Salva-Sinobas” project (ref. 200800050083542) funded by the Ministry of the Environment, Rural and Maritime Affairs of Spain and by the Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT) through the ENAC PTDC/AAC-CLI/103567/2008 project. The early English Royal Navy logbook data were secured as part of the EU FP6 Integrated Project 017008: “European Climate for the Past Millennium”. The authors thank Ricardo M. Trigo for his useful discussion on this manuscript and The National Archives (Kew, Surrey, UK). Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments that contributed to improve the manuscript.
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