Positive low cloud and dust feedbacks amplify tropical North Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation

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  • This article was corrected on 22 APR 2016. See the end of the full text for details.

Abstract

The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) is characterized by a horseshoe pattern of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies and has a wide range of climatic impacts. While the tropical arm of AMO is responsible for many of these impacts, it is either too weak or completely absent in many climate model simulations. Here we show, using both observational and model evidence, that the radiative effect of positive low cloud and dust feedbacks is strong enough to generate the tropical arm of AMO, with the low cloud feedback more dominant. The feedbacks can be understood in a consistent dynamical framework: weakened tropical trade wind speed in response to a warm middle latitude SST anomaly reduces dust loading and low cloud fraction over the tropical Atlantic, which warms the tropical North Atlantic SST. Together they contribute to the appearance of the tropical arm of AMO. Most current climate models miss both the critical wind speed response and two positive feedbacks though realistic simulations of them may be essential for many climatic studies related to the AMO.

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