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Keywords:

  • Atlantic multidecadal oscillation;
  • Atlantic hurricane activity;
  • anthropogenic global warming

Abstract

Analysis of recent literature finds weaknesses in arguments to the effect that the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO)—roughly 50–90 year fluctuations in North Atlantic sea surface temperatures—is externally forced by anthropogenic aerosols and greenhouse gases rather than an internal climate mode, plus indications from other sources that the contrary may be true. We are led to the conclusion that the AMO is probably comprised of both natural and anthropogenic forcing in ways that preclude a physically based separation of the two, using the limited historical data sets. A straightforward quadratic fitting of trend to temperature data accounts for some of the 20th century nonlinearity in secular warming and separates the secular and multidecadal components of variability without inherent assumptions about the nature of the multidecadal fluctuations. Doing this shows that the 20th century secular ocean warming in the North Atlantic is about equal to the peak-to-peak amplitude of the multidecadal fluctuations. However, over the last quarter-century (1975–2000) the most recent multidecadal warming has been almost three times the secular sea surface temperature (SST) increase over the main development region (MDR) for major Atlantic hurricanes. In the last quarter-century the multidecadal increase in late summer Atlantic warm pool (AWP) size (area of SSTs in excess of 28 °C) has been 36%, and the secular increase, 14%. Projections to the year 2025 show that the cumulative change in summer warm pool size since 1975 will depend critically on whether a subsequent cooling in the multidecadal cycle occurs, comparable to the warming between 1975 and 2000 AD. This places a high premium on understanding to what extent the AMO is a man-made or a natural phenomenon. Copyright © 2009 Royal Meteorological Society