IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis North Atlantic Oscillation/Northern Annular Mode

The NAM is an approximately zonally symmetric mode of variability in the NH (Thompson and Wallace, 1998), and the NAO (Hurrell, 1996) may be viewed as its Atlantic counterpart (Section 3.6.4). The NAM index exhibited a pronounced trend towards its positive phase between the 1960s and the 1990s, corresponding to a decrease in surface pressure over the Arctic and an increase over the subtropical North Atlantic (see Section 3.6.4; see also Hurrell, 1996; Thompson et al., 2000; Gillett et al., 2003a). Several studies have shown this trend to be inconsistent with simulated internal variability (Osborn et al., 1999; Gillett et al., 2000, 2002b; Osborn, 2004; Gillett, 2005). Although the NAM index has decreased somewhat since its peak in the mid-1990s, the trend calculated over recent decades remains significant at the 5% significance level compared to simulated internal variability in most models (Osborn, 2004; Gillett, 2005), although one study found that the NAO index trend was marginally consistent with internal variability in one model (Selten et al., 2004).

Most climate models simulate some increase in the NAM index in response to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases (Fyfe et al., 1999; Paeth et al., 1999; Shindell et al., 1999; Gillett et al., 2003a,b; Osborn, 2004; Rauthe et al., 2004), although the simulated trend is generally smaller than that observed (Gillett et al., 2002b, 2003b; Osborn, 2004; Gillett, 2005; and see Figure 9.16). Simulated sea level pressure changes are generally found to project more strongly onto the hemispheric NAM index than onto a two-station NAO index (Gillett et al., 2002b; Osborn, 2004; Rauthe et al., 2004). Some studies have postulated an influence of ozone depletion (Volodin and Galin, 1999; Shindell et al., 2001a), changes in solar irradiance (Shindell et al., 2001a) and volcanic eruptions (Kirchner et al., 1999; Shindell et al., 2001a; Stenchikov et al., 2006) on the NAM. Stenchikov et al. (2006) examine changes in sea level pressure following nine volcanic eruptions in the MMD 20C3M ensemble of 20th-century simulations, and find that the models simulated a positive NAM response to the volcanoes, albeit one that was smaller than that observed. Nevertheless, ozone, solar and volcanic forcing changes are generally not found to have made a large contribution to the observed NAM trend over recent decades (Shindell et al., 2001a; Gillett et al., 2003a). Simulations incorporating all the major anthropogenic and natural forcings from the MMD 20C3M ensemble generally showed some increase in the NAM over the latter part of the 20th century (Gillett, 2005; Miller et al., 2006; and see Figure 9.16), although the simulated trend is in all cases smaller than that observed, indicating inconsistency between simulated and observed trends at the 5% significance level (Gillett, 2005).

Figure 9.16

Figure 9.16. Comparison between observed (top) and model-simulated (bottom) December to February sea-level pressure trends (hPa per 50 years) in the NH (left panels) and SH (right panels) based on decadal means for the period 1955 to 2005. Observed trends are based on the Hadley Centre Mean Sea Level Pressure data set (HadSLP2r, an infilled observational data set; Allan and Ansell, 2006). Model-simulated trends are the mean simulated response to greenhouse gas, sulphate aerosol, stratospheric ozone, volcanic aerosol and solar irradiance changes from eight coupled models (CCSM3, GFDL-CM2.0, GFDL-CM2.1, GISS-EH, GISS-ER, MIROC3.2(medres), PCM, UKMO-HadCM3; see Table 8.1 for model descriptions). Streamlines indicate the direction of the trends (m s–1 per 50 years) in the geostrophic wind velocity derived from the trends in sea level pressure, and the shading of the streamlines indicates the magnitude of the change, with darker streamlines corresponding to larger changes in geostrophic wind. White areas in all panels indicate regions with insufficient station-based measurements to constrain analysis. Further explanation of the construction of this figure is provided in the Supplementary Material, Appendix 9.C. Updated after Gillett et al. (2005).

The mechanisms underlying NH circulation changes remain open to debate. Simulations in which observed SST changes, which may in part be externally forced, were prescribed either globally or in the tropics alone were able to capture around half of the recent trend towards the positive phase of the NAO (Hoerling et al., 2005; Hurrell et al., 2005), suggesting that the trend may in part relate to SST changes, particularly over the Indian Ocean (Hoerling et al., 2005). Another simulation in which a realistic trend in stratospheric winds was prescribed was able to reproduce the observed trend in the NAO (Scaife et al., 2005). Rind et al. (2005a,b) find that both stratospheric changes and changes in SST can force changes in the NAM and NAO, with changes in SSTs being the dominant forcing mechanism.

Over the period 1968 to 1997, the trend in the NAM was associated with approximately 50% of the winter surface warming in Eurasia, due to increased advection of maritime air onto the continent, but only a small fraction (16%) of the NH extratropical annual mean warming trend (Thompson et al., 2000; Section 3.6.4 and Figure 3.30). It was also associated with a decrease in winter precipitation over southern Europe and an increase over northern Europe, due the northward displacement of the storm track (Thompson et al., 2000).