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The role of local sea surface temperature pattern changes in shaping climate change in the North Atlantic sector

  • Hand, Ralf1
  • Keenlyside, Noel S.2, 3
  • Omrani, Nour-Eddine2
  • Bader, Jürgen1
  • Greatbatch, Richard J.4, 5
  • 1 Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstraße 53, Hamburg, 20146, Germany , Hamburg (Germany)
  • 2 University of Bergen, Geophysical Institute and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Allégaten 70, 5020, Bergen, Norway , Bergen (Norway)
  • 3 Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, Thormøhlens Gate 47, 5006, Bergen, Norway , Bergen (Norway)
  • 4 GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, Kiel, 24105, Germany , Kiel (Germany)
  • 5 Kiel University, Christian‐Albrechts‐Platz 4, Kiel, 24118, Germany , Kiel (Germany)
Published Article
Climate Dynamics
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Publication Date
Mar 07, 2018
DOI: 10.1007/s00382-018-4151-1
Springer Nature


Beside its global effects, climate change is manifested in many regionally pronounced features mainly resulting from changes in the oceanic and atmospheric circulation. Here we investigate the influence of the North Atlantic SST on shaping the winter-time response to global warming. Our results are based on a long-term climate projection with the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM) to investigate the influence of North Atlantic sea surface temperature pattern changes on shaping the atmospheric climate change signal. In sensitivity experiments with the model’s atmospheric component we decompose the response into components controlled by the local SST structure and components controlled by global/remote changes. MPI-ESM simulates a global warming response in SST similar to other climate models: there is a warming minimum—or ”warming hole”—in the subpolar North Atlantic, and the sharp SST gradients associated with the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current shift northward by a few a degrees. Over the warming hole, global warming causes a relatively weak increase in rainfall. Beyond this, our experiments show more localized effects, likely resulting from future SST gradient changes in the North Atlantic. This includes a significant precipitation decrease to the south of the Gulf Stream despite increased underlying SSTs. Since this region is characterised by a strong band of precipitation in the current climate, this is contrary to the usual case that wet regions become wetter and dry regions become drier in a warmer climate. A moisture budget analysis identifies a complex interplay of various processes in the region of modified SST gradients: reduced surface winds cause a decrease in evaporation; and thermodynamic, modified atmospheric eddy transports, and coastal processes cause a change in the moisture convergence. The changes in the the North Atlantic storm track are mainly controlled by the non-regional changes in the forcing. The impact of the local SST pattern changes on regions outside the North Atlantic is small in our setup.

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