Multidecadal mobility of the North Atlantic Oscillation

G. W. K. Moore, I. A. Renfrew, R. S. Pickart

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The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is one of the most important modes of variability in the global climate system and is characterized by a meridional dipole in the sea level pressure field, with centers of action near Iceland and the Azores. It has a profound influence on the weather, climate, ecosystems, and economies of Europe, Greenland, eastern North America, and North Africa. It has been proposed that around 1980, there was an eastward secular shift in the NAO’s northern center of action that impacted sea ice export through Fram Strait. Independently, it has also been suggested that the location of its southern center of action is tied to the phase of the NAO. Both of these attributes of the NAO have been linked to anthropogenic climate change. Here the authors use both the one-point correlation map technique as well as empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis to show that the meridional dipole that is often seen in the sea level pressure field over the North Atlantic is not purely the result of the NAO (as traditionally defined) but rather arises through an interplay among the NAO and two other leading modes of variability in the North Atlantic region: the East Atlantic (EA) and the Scandinavian (SCA) patterns. This interplay has resulted in multidecadal mobility in the two centers of action of the meridional dipole since the late nineteenth century. In particular, an eastward movement of the dipole has occurred during the 1930s to 1950s as well as more recently. This mobility is not seen in the leading EOF of the sea level pressure field in the region.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2453-2466
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013


  • North Atlantic Ocean
  • North Atlantic Oscillation
  • Climate variability
  • Climatology
  • Empirical orthogona functions

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