Have aerosols caused the observed atlantic multidecadal variability?

Rong Zhang, Thomas L. Delworth, Keith W. Dixon, Isaac M. Held, Yi Ming, Rym Msadek, Anthony J. Rosati, Gabriel Andres Vecchi, Rowan Sutton, Daniel L R Hodson, Jon Robson, Yochanan Kushnir, Mingfang Ting, John Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

256 Scopus citations


Identifying the prime drivers of the twentieth-century multidecadal variability in the Atlantic Ocean is crucial for predicting how the Atlantic will evolve in the coming decades and the resulting broad impacts on weather and precipitation patterns around the globe. Recently, Booth et al. showed that the Hadley Centre Global Environmental Model, version 2, Earth system configuration (HadGEM2-ES) closely reproduces the observed multidecadal variations of area-averaged North Atlantic sea surface temperature in the twentieth century. The multidecadal variations simulated in HadGEM2-ES are primarily driven by aerosol indirect effects thatmodify net surface shortwave radiation. On the basis of these results, Booth et al. concluded that aerosols are a prime driver of twentieth-century North Atlantic climate variability. However, here it is shown that there are major discrepancies between the HadGEM2-ES simulations and observations in the North Atlantic upper-ocean heat content, in the spatial pattern of multidecadal SST changes within and outside the NorthAtlantic, and in the subpolar NorthAtlantic sea surface salinity. These discrepanciesmay be strongly influenced by, and indeed in large part caused by, aerosol effects. It is also shown that the aerosol effects simulated in HadGEM2-ES cannot account for the observed anticorrelation between detrended multidecadal surface and subsurface temperature variations in the tropical North Atlantic. These discrepancies cast considerable doubt on the claim that aerosol forcing drives the bulk of this multidecadal variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1135-1144
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Multidecadal variability


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