IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Annular Modes and Mid-Latitude Circulation Changes

Many simulations project some decrease in the arctic surface pressure in the 21st century, as seen in the multi-model average (see Figure 10.9). This contributes to an increase in indices of the Northern Annular Mode (NAM) or the Arctic Oscillation (AO), as well as the NAO, which is closely related to the NAM in the Atlantic sector (see Chapter 8). In the recent multi-model analyses, more than half of the models exhibit a positive trend in the NAM (Rauthe et al., 2004; Miller et al., 2006) and/or NAO (Osborn, 2004; Kuzmina et al., 2005). Although the magnitude of the trends shows a large variation among different models, Miller et al. (2006) find that none of the 14 models exhibits a trend towards a lower NAM index and higher arctic SLP. In another multi-model analysis, Stephenson et al. (2006) show that of the 15 models able to simulate the NAO pressure dipole, 13 predict a positive increase in the NAO index with increasing CO2 concentrations, although the magnitude of the response is generally small and model dependent. However, the multi-model average from the larger number (21) of models shown in Figure 10.9 indicates that it is likely that the NAM index would not notably decrease in a future warmer climate. The average of IPCC-AR4 simulations from 13 models suggests the increase of the NAM index becomes statistically significant early in the 21st century (Figure 10.17a, Miller et al., 2006).

Figure 10.17

Figure 10.17. (a) Multi-model mean of the regression of the leading EOF of ensemble mean Northern Hemisphere sea level pressure (NH SLP, thin red line). The time series of regression coefficients has zero mean between year 1900 and 1970. The thick red line is a 10-year low-pass filtered version of the mean. The grey shading represents the inter-model spread at the 95% confidence level and is filtered. A filtered version of the observed SLP from the Hadley Centre (HadSLP1) is shown in black. The regression coefficient for the winter following a major tropical eruption is marked by red, blue and black triangles for the multi-model mean, the individual model mean and observations, respectively. (b) As in (a) for Southern Hemisphere SLP for models with (red) and without (blue) ozone forcing. Adapted from Miller et al. (2006).

The spatial patterns of the simulated SLP trends vary among different models, in spite of close correlations of the models’ leading patterns of interannual (or internal) variability with the observations (Osborn, 2004; Miller et al., 2006). However, at the hemispheric scale of SLP change, the reduction in the Arctic is seen in the multi-model mean (Figure 10.9), although the change is smaller than the inter-model standard deviation. Besides the decrease in the arctic region, increases over the North Pacific and the Mediterranean Sea exceed the inter-model standard deviation; the latter suggests an association with a north-eastward shift of the NAO’s centre of action (Hu and Wu, 2004). The diversity of the patterns seems to reflect different responses in the Aleutian Low (Rauthe et al., 2004) in the North Pacific. Yamaguchi and Noda (2006) discuss the modelled response of ENSO versus AO, and find that many models project a positive AO-like change. In the North Pacific at high latitudes, however, the SLP anomalies are incompatible between the El Niño-like change and the positive AO-like change, because models that project an El Niño-like change over the Pacific simulate a non-AO-like pattern in the polar region. As a result, the present models cannot fully determine the relative importance of the mechanisms inducing the positive AO-like change and those inducing the ENSO-like change, leading to scatter in global warming patterns at regional scales over the North Pacific. Rauthe et al. (2004) suggest that the effects of sulphate aerosols contribute to a deepening of the Aleutian Low resulting in a slower or smaller increase in the AO index.

Analyses of results from various models indicate that the NAM can respond to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations through tropospheric processes (Fyfe et al., 1999; Gillett et al., 2003; Miller et al., 2006). Greenhouse gases can also drive a positive NAM trend through changes in the stratospheric circulation, similar to the mechanism by which volcanic aerosols in the stratosphere force positive annular changes (Shindell et al., 2001). Models with their upper boundaries extending farther into the stratosphere exhibit, on average, a relatively larger increase in the NAM index and respond consistently to the observed volcanic forcing (Figure 10.17a, Miller et al., 2006), implying the importance of the connection between the troposphere and the stratosphere.

A plausible explanation for the cause of the upward NAM trend simulated by the models is an intensification of the polar vortex resulting from both tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling mainly due to the increase in greenhouse gases (Shindell et al., 2001; Sigmond et al., 2004; Rind et al., 2005a). The response may not be linear with the magnitude of radiative forcing (Gillett et al., 2002) since the polar vortex response is attributable to an equatorward refraction of planetary waves (Eichelberger and Holton, 2002) rather than radiative forcing itself. Since the long-term variation in the NAO is closely related to SST variations (Rodwell et al., 1999), it is considered essential that the projection of the changes in the tropical SST (Hoerling et al., 2004; Hurrell et al., 2004) and/or meridional gradient of the SST change (Rind et al., 2005b) is reliable.

The future trend in the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) or the Antarctic Oscillation (AAO) has been projected in a number of model simulations (Gillett and Thompson, 2003; Shindell and Schmidt, 2004; Arblaster and Meehl, 2006; Miller et al., 2006). According to the latest multi-model analysis (Miller et al., 2006), most models indicate a positive trend in the SAM index, and a declining trend in the antarctic SLP (as seen in Figure 10.9), with a higher likelihood than for the future NAM trend. On average, a larger positive trend is projected during the late 20th century by models that include stratospheric ozone changes than those that do not (Figure 10.17b), although during the 21st century, when ozone changes are smaller, the SAM trends of models with and without ozone are similar. The cause of the positive SAM trend in the second half of the 20th century is mainly attributed to stratospheric ozone depletion, evidenced by the fact that the signal is largest in the lower stratosphere in austral spring through summer (Thompson and Solomon, 2002; Arblaster and Meehl, 2006). However, increases in greenhouse gases are also important factors (Shindell and Schmidt, 2004; Arblaster and Meehl, 2006) for the year-round positive SAM trend induced by meridional temperature gradient changes (Brandefelt and Källén, 2004). During the 21st century, although the ozone amount is expected to stabilise or recover, the polar vortex intensification is likely to continue due to the increases in greenhouse gases (Arblaster and Meehl, 2006).

It is implied that the future change in the annular modes leads to modifications of the future change in various fields such as surface temperatures, precipitation and sea ice with regional features similar to those for the modes of natural variability (e.g., Hurrell et al., 2003). For instance, the surface warming in winter would be intensified in northern Eurasia and most of North America while weakened in the western North Atlantic, and winter precipitation would increase in northern Europe while decreasing in southern Europe. The atmospheric circulation change would also affect the ocean circulations. Sakamoto et al. (2005) simulate an intensification of the Kuroshio Current but no shift in the Kuroshio Extension in response to an AO-like circulation change for the 21st century. However, Sato et al. (2006) simulate a northward shift of the Kuroshio Extension, which leads to a strong warming off the eastern coast of Japan.

In summary, the future changes in the extratropical circulation variability are likely to be characterised by increases in positive phases of both the NAM and the SAM. The response in the NAM to anthropogenic forcing might not be distinct from the larger multi-decadal internal variability in the first half of the 21st century. The change in the SAM would appear earlier than in the NAM since stratospheric ozone depletion acts as an additional forcing. The positive trends in annular modes would influence the regional changes in temperature, precipitation and other fields, similar to those that accompany the NAM and the SAM in the present climate, but would be superimposed on the global-scale changes in a future warmer climate.