Variable external forcing obscures the weak relationship between the NAO and North Atlantic multidecadal SST variability

Jeremy M. Klavans, Amy C. Clement, Mark A. Cane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


North Atlantic sea surface temperatures (SST) exhibit a lagged response to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) in both models and observations, which has previously been attributed to changes in ocean heat transport. Here we examine the lagged relationship between the NAO and Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV) in the context of the two other major components of the AMV: atmospheric noise and external forcing. In preindustrial control runs, we generally find that after accounting for spurious signals introduced by filtering, the SST response to the NAO is only statistically significant in the subpolar gyre. Further, the lagged SST response to the NAO is small in magnitude and offers a limited contribution to theAMVpattern, statistics, or predictability. When climate models include variable external forcing, the relationship between the NAO andAMVis obscured and becomes inconsistent. In these historically forced runs, knowledge of the priorNAOoffers reduced predictability. The differences between the preindustrial and the historically forced ensembles suggest that we do not yet have enough observational data to surmise the true NAO-AMV relationship and add evidence that external forcing plays a substantial role in producing the AMV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3847-3864
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2019


  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • Climate variability
  • Multidecadal variability
  • North Atlantic Oscillation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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