IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

3.6.6 Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation

Over the instrumental period (since the 1850s), North Atlantic SSTs show a 65 to 75 year variation (0.4°C range), with a warm phase during 1930 to 1960 and cool phases during 1905 to 1925 and 1970 to 1990 (Schlesinger and Ramankutty, 1994), and this feature has been termed the AMO (Kerr, 2000), as shown in Figure 3.33. Evidence (e.g., Enfield et al., 2001; Knight et al., 2005) of a warm phase in the AMO from 1870 to 1900 is revealed as an artefact of the de-trending used (Trenberth and Shea, 2006). The cycle appears to have returned to a warm phase beginning in the mid-1990s, and tropical Atlantic SSTs were at record high levels in 2005. Instrumental observations capture only two full cycles of the AMO, so the robustness of the signal has been addressed using proxies. Similar oscillations in a 60- to 110-year band are seen in North Atlantic palaeoclimatic reconstructions through the last four centuries (Delworth and Mann, 2000; Gray et al., 2004). Both observations and model simulations implicate changes in the strength of the THC as the primary source of the multi-decadal variability, and suggest a possible oscillatory component to its behaviour (Delworth and Mann, 2000; Latif, 2001; Sutton and Hodson, 2003; Knight et al., 2005). Trenberth and Shea (2006) proposed a revised AMO index, subtracting the global mean SST from the North Atlantic SST. The revised index is about 0.35°C lower than the original after 2000, highlighting the fact that most of the recent warming is global in scale.


Figure 3.33. Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation index from 1850 to 2005 represented by annual anomalies of SST in the extratropical North Atlantic (30–65°N; top), and in a more muted fashion in the tropical Atlantic (10°N –20°N) SST anomalies (bottom). Both series come from HadSST2 (Rayner et al., 2006) and are relative to the 1961 to 1990 mean (°C). The smooth blue curves show decadal variations (see Appendix 3.A).

The AMO has been linked to multi-year precipitation anomalies over North America, and appears to modulate ENSO teleconnections (Enfield et al., 2001; McCabe et al., 2004; Shabbar and Skinner, 2004). Multi-decadal variability in the North Atlantic also plays a role in Atlantic hurricane formation (Goldenberg et al., 2001; see also Section The revised AMO index (Trenberth and Shea, 2006) indicates that North Atlantic SSTs have recently been about 0.3°C warmer than during 1970 to 1990, emphasizing the role of the AMO in suppressing tropical storm activity during that period. The AMO is likely to be a driver of multi-decadal variations in Sahel droughts, precipitation in the Caribbean, summer climate of both North America and Europe, sea ice concentration in the Greenland Sea and sea level pressure over the southern USA, the North Atlantic and southern Europe (e.g., Venegas and Mysak, 2000; Goldenberg et al., 2001; Sutton and Hodson, 2005; Trenberth and Shea, 2006). Walter and Graf (2002) identified a non-stationary relationship between the NAO and the AMO. During the negative phase of the AMO, the North Atlantic SST is strongly correlated with the NAO index. In contrast, the NAO index is only weakly correlated with the North Atlantic SST during the AMO positive phase. Chelliah and Bell (2004) defined a tropical multi-decadal pattern related to the AMO, the PDO and winter NAO with coherent variations in tropical convection and surface temperatures in the West African monsoon region, the central tropical Pacific, the Amazon Basin and the tropical Indian Ocean.