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Keywords:

  • climate;
  • volcano;
  • Arctic Oscillation

[1] We have analyzed the mean climate response pattern following large tropical volcanic eruptions back to the beginning of the 17th century using a combination of proxy-based reconstructions and modern instrumental records of cold-season surface air temperature. Warm anomalies occur throughout northern Eurasia, while cool anomalies cover northern Africa and the Middle East, extending all the way to China. In North America, the northern portion of the continent cools, with the anomalies extending out over the Labrador Sea and southern Greenland. The analyses confirm that for two years following eruptions the anomalies strongly resemble the Arctic Oscillation/Northern Annular Mode (AO/NAM) or the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) in the Atlantic-Eurasian sector. With our four-century record, the mean response is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level over much of the Northern Hemisphere land area. However, the standard deviation of the response is larger than the mean signal nearly everywhere, indicating that the anomaly following a single eruption is unlikely to be representative of the mean. Both the mean response and the variability can be successfully reproduced in general circulation model simulations. Driven by the solar heating induced by the stratospheric aerosols, these models produce enhanced westerlies from the lower stratosphere down to the surface. The climate response to volcanic eruptions thus strongly suggests that stratospheric temperature and wind anomalies can affect surface climate by forcing a shift in the AO/NAM or NAO.