EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Response of atmospheric variability in the Northern Hemisphere winter to past climate conditions and elevated CO2 levels

Arthur Oldeman1, Michiel Baatsen1, Anna von der Heydt1,2, Aarnout van Delden1, and Henk Dijkstra1,2
Arthur Oldeman et al.
  • 1Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 2Centre for Complex Systems Science, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

A specific feature where future climate projections fail to see a consistent response to increasing CO2 levels is Northern Hemisphere winter atmospheric dynamics and variability. This holds specifically for the Northern Annular Mode (NAM) and its regional expression, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The lack of consensus in future projections is caused in part due to the large internal variations of these modes of atmospheric variability compared to the response to elevated CO2.

The response of interannual and decadal climate variability to warm conditions can be isolated in climate simulations equilibrated at elevated CO2 concentrations. However, we cannot perform a future model-data comparison. Fortunately, we can turn to the past. The last time the Earth saw similar CO2 concentration as the present day was approximately 3 million years ago, in the mid-Pliocene epoch. The mid-Pliocene is often considered the ‘best analog’ to an equilibrated climate at present or near-future CO2 levels. However, can the mid-Pliocene be used to assess the response of Northern Hemisphere winter atmospheric variability, such as the NAO and NAM, to a warm climate?

To answer this question, we have performed a set of sensitivity experiments using a global coupled climate model (CESM1.0.5). We have performed sensitivity studies using a pre-industrial and a mid-Pliocene geography, as well as two levels of radiative forcing (280 ppm and 560 ppm), as a part of intercomparison project PlioMIP2. Our mid-Pliocene simulations generally compare well to proxy reconstructions of sea-surface temperature.

We consider the sea-level pressure (SLP) and zonal wind at 200 hPa using 200 years of January-mean data, and perform principal component analysis. In response to the mid-Pliocene boundary conditions (other than CO2), we find a large increase in the mean SLP along with a decreased variance over the North Pacific Ocean. This is accompanied with a weakened jet stream over the western North Pacific, as well as increased occurrence of a split jet condition over the eastern North Pacific. These findings are connected to a regime shift in the modes of atmospheric variability in the Northern Hemisphere, where the so-called North Pacific Oscillation (NPO) becomes the most dominant mode of variability. We do not see tendencies towards similar behavior in the CO2 doubling experiment indicating that the Pliocene boundary conditions are the main driver of the observed shifts in variability. This suggests that the mid-Pliocene is not a good analog for a warm future climate when considering Northern hemisphere winter atmospheric variability.

How to cite: Oldeman, A., Baatsen, M., von der Heydt, A., van Delden, A., and Dijkstra, H.: Response of atmospheric variability in the Northern Hemisphere winter to past climate conditions and elevated CO2 levels, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-7748,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file