Intensified Aleutian Low induces weak Pacific Decadal Variability

William James Dow, Christine M. McKenna, Manoj M. Joshi, Adam Blaker, Richard Rigby, Amanda C. Maycock

Research output: Working paperPreprint


The Aleutian Low drives decadal variability in North Pacific sea surface temperatures (SST), but its role in basin-wide Pacific SST variability is less clear owing to the difficulty of disentangling coupled atmosphere-ocean processes. We apply local atmospheric nudging to isolate the effects of an intense winter Aleutian Low using an intermediate complexity climate model. An intensified Aleutian Low produces a basin-wide SST response with a similar pattern to internally-generated Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The amplitude of the SST response in the North Pacific is comparable to PDO, but in the tropics and southern subtropics the anomalies induced by the intense Aleutian Low are a factor of 3 weaker. The tropical Pacific warming peaks in boreal spring, though anomalies persist year-round. A heat budget analysis shows the northern subtropical Pacific SST response is predominantly driven by anomalous surface heat fluxes in boreal winter, while in the equatorial Pacific the response is mainly due to meridional heat advection in boreal spring. The propagation of anomalies from the extratropics to the tropics can be explained by the seasonal footprinting mechanism, involving the wind-evaporation-SST feedback. The results show that low frequency variability and trends in the Aleutian Low could contribute to basin-wide anomalous Pacific SST, but the magnitude of the effect cannot explain the full amplitude of the PDO. This finding suggests that external forcing of the Aleutian Low is unlikely to explain observed shifts in the phase of PDO in the late 20th and early-21st centuries.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCopernicus Publications
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2023

Publication series

NameWeather and Climate Dynamics
PublisherCopernicus GmbH
ISSN (Print)2698-4016

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