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Isaac Held's Blog

35. Atlantic multi-decadal variability and aerosols


(Left) Sea surface temperature averaged over the North Atlantic (75-7.5W, 0-60N), in the HADGEM2-ES model (ensemble mean red; standard deviation yellow) compared with observations (black),  as discussed in Booth et al 2012.  (Right) Upper ocean (< 700m) heat content in this model averaged over the same area, from Zhang et al 2013 ( green = simulation with no anthropogenic aerosol forcing, kindly provided by Ben Booth.)

A paper by Booth et al 2012 has attracted a lot of attention because of the claim it makes that the interdecadal variability in the North Atlantic is in large part the response to external forcing agents, aerosols in particular, rather than internal variability.  This has implications for estimates of (transient) climate sensitivity but it also has very direct implications for our understanding of important climate variations such as the recent upward trend in Atlantic hurricane activity (linked to the recent rapid increase in N.Atlantic sea surface temperatures) and drought in the Sahel in the 1970′s (linked to the cool N. Atlantic in that decade). I am a co-author of a recent paper by Rong Zhang and others  (Zhang et al 2013) in which we argue that the Booth et al paper and the model on which it is based do not make a compelling case for this claim.

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