Weather regime transitions and the interannual variability of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Part I: a likely connection



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4. Transitions between NAO and NAO events and their link with interannual NAO variability

a) Examples of NAONAO and NAONAOtransition events

Before examining the impact of the NAO regime transitions on the interannual NAO variability, we first look at the frequency of occurrence of NAONAO and NAONAOtransition events within P1 and P2. We show two typical NAO transition events that satisfy the definition of a NAO transition event presented in section 2 in Fig.4. The corresponding daily NAO indices are presented in Fig.5. Figure 4a shows a NAONAO transition event that occurred during the period from 16 Dec. 1978 to 13 Jan. 1979. On 16 Dec. 1978, a weak ridge, typical of a NAO event, is located over the western Atlantic. It is seen that the westward expansion of an intensifying large-scale trough over the European continent takes place prior to the decay of the NAO event (from 24 to 30 Dec.). This is followed by the emergence of a NAO event as the trough undergoes further intensification, anticyclonic wave breaking (Benedict et al. 2004; Franzke et al. 2004; Riviere and Orlanski 2007), and westward propagation. The time scale of this NAONAO transition event is about 27 days, as shown in Fig.5a, indicating that this is an intraseasonal time scale process.



Figure 4b shows the life cycle of a NAONAO transition event. After anticyclonic synoptic-scale wave breaking is observed (15 Jan.), we see that the NAO event undergoes decay as an intensified blocking flow over Europe shifts westward. This is followed by the formation of a NAOevent (23 to 30 Jan.). The time scale of this NAONAO transition event is about 30 days, again within the range of intraseasonal time scale variability. Because the lifetime of the individual NAO (NAO) event within the NAO transition event is about 15 days (Feldstein 2003; Benedict et al. 2004), the total period of the NAO transition event is at the intraseasonal timescale.

b) NAO transition events and its occurrence frequency within P1 and P2.

For the NAONAOand NAONAOtransition events as shown in Fig.4, they satisfy the definition of a NAO transition event presented in section 2. According to this definition, the number of all NAO and NAO events, along with the number of transition events, is shown in Fig.6 for the two subperiods P1 and P2. It is found that NAO events are more frequent than NAO events within both P1 and P2. Within P1 there are 10 NAONAO transition events and 5 NAO NAO transition events. In contrast, within P2, there are 11 NAO NAO transition events and 6 NAONAOtransition events. Thus, NAO NAO transition events occur at about twice the frequency of NAO NAO transition events within P1. During P2, the frequency of the transition events is strikingly different, as the frequency of NAONAO transition events is twice that of the NAO NAO transition events. At the same time, we see that the NAONAO transition events comprise 42% of the total number of NAO events in P1, while the NAONAO transition events account for 55% of the total number of NAO events within P2. This contrasts the NAONAO transition events within P2 and the NAONAO transition events within P1, which occur at a much lower frequency, 15% and 26%, respectively. Correspondingly, the number of days within NAONAO (NAONAO) transition events comprise almost 41% (52%) of the total number of NAO(NAO) event days within P1 (P2). These results indicate that the interannual variability of the winter mean NAO index from P1 to P2 is probably affected by the different frequencies of NAONAO and NAONAO transition events within P1 and P2, although the role of in-situ NAO events is dominant (Johnson et al. 2008).

To evaluate how the frequency of NAONAO (NAO NAO) transition events varies with time, we show the time series of the number of NAONAO and NAO NAO transition events for the period 1978-2008 in Fig.7. It is noted that NAONAOevents during P2 occur mainly in two subperiods: 1995-2001 and 2004-2008, whereas most of NAONAO transition events take place before 1991. This suggests that examining the impact of NAO transition events on the weather regimes during 1978-2008 is reasonable for trying to obtain a better understanding of interannual NAO variability.

Thus, it is conjectured that the difference in the occurrence frequency of NAO transition events in both event and day numbers between P1 and P2 is likely to result in the interannual variation of the winter mean NAO index in the two time intervals even though there is a very large change in the number of in-situ positive NAO events between P1 and P2. The contribution of the NAO regime transitions to the interannual variability of the NAO pattern can be seen by subtracting NAO transition events. This is performed by removing NAO (NAO) events within the NAONAO (NAO NAO) transition events.

c) Multiple weather regimes over the North Atlantic and the impact of the NAO regime transition

To investigate the impact of the NAO transition events on changes in multiple weather regimes over the North Atlantic, the cluster analyses is performed for two cases. Case 1 corresponds to a calculation in which all days are retained, and Case 2 to a calculation for which the NAO (NAO) events within the NAONAO (NAO NAO) transition events in P1 (P2) are removed. Comparing the results for these two cases allows us to examine of the role of the NAO regime transitions.



For Case 1, we show the four North Atlantic weather regimes for the two subperiods (Fig.8): P1 and P2, while Fig. 9 shows the corresponding regimes for Case 2. It is seen from Fig. 8 that the northern center of the NAO (NAO) anomaly within P1 (P2) is much stronger than that during P2 (P1). We also note that the SBL is stronger and located farther westward within P2 than within P1. By comparing Figs. 8a and 9a, it can be seen that the NAO to NAO transition events coincide with enhanced NAOand AR patterns within P1. Because the AR pattern exhibits a northeast-southwest tilted low-over-high dipole structure, the AR pattern can strengthen the NAO anomaly if it undergoes retrograde and southward movement. This is because an enhanced AR can strengthen the difference between the high pressure in lower latitudes and the low pressure in higher latitudes, thus, causing the intensification of the NAO anomaly. Thus, it appears that the NAONAOtransition within P1 is likely to be related to the enhancement of the AR pattern. This hints that the NAONAO transition takes place through the AR pattern, i.e., NAO to AR to NAO path. This is indirectly indicated by the observational study of Woollings et al. (2011), who found that the strengthening of the AR does coincide with the northward displacement of the Atlantic eddy-driven jet stream, a feature that corresponds to the positive phase of the NAO. Using a HMM approach, Franzke et al. (2011) identified three preferred transitions as corresponding to three jet states: southern to central jet, northern to southern jet, and central to northern jet. Here, we have noted that the NAO NAOtransition within P1 is, to some extent, dominated by the intensification of the AR pattern.

On the other hand, for the NAO NAO transition events during P2, a comparison between Figs. 8b and 9b shows that the transition events coincide with the NAO (NAO) anomaly being markedly enhanced (weakened). A comparison between Figs. 8b and 9b also shows for the NAONAO transition events that the SBL is enhanced and exhibits a westward-displaced position. The strengthening and westward-displaced position of the SBL within P2 takes place with the intensification of the NAO anomaly. Thus, the NAONAO transition appears to be connected to the excitation of the enhanced SBL pattern. These results suggest that the enhancement of the SBL pattern plays a role for the NAONAO transition events. Thus, the NAONAO transition event is likely to coincide with an increase in the amplitude and the westward-displaced position of the SBL pattern. As noted by Cassou (2008), a greater frequency of occurrence of the SBL can lead to a NAO to SBL to NAO transition.

More recently, Michel and Riviere (2011) found two distinct regime transitions: a Scandinavian blocking to Greenland anticyclone (or NAO) transition, and a zonal flow (NAO) to the Scandinavian blocking transition. In particular, the Scandinavian blocking to Greenland anticyclone transition is found to be triggered by Rossby wave breaking events, and the nonlinear interactions amongst the high-frequency transient eddies play an important role in such a transition. However, Luo et al. (2011) demonstrated that the NAONAO transition within P2 tends to occur when the Atlantic storm track is particularly strong. This is because the transient eddy forcing (feedback) becomes more important when the Atlantic storm track is enhanced (Choi et al. 2010). As a result, the intensification and retrograde shift of the downstream blocking occurs due to the onset of a NAO event that is able to transit toward a NAO event (Luo et al. 2011). However, the dynamical process that drives these NAO regime transitions is not fully clear even though there is a possibility that the NAO regime transition is connected to the enhanced AR and SBL patterns. In Part II of this study, we will further examine the dynamical processes which drive both the NAONAO and NAO NAO transition events, along with the role played by the enhanced AR and SBL patterns in these transitions, respectively.

Although the results from the cluster analyses cannot directly tell us how the transitions between NAO regimes are connected to the variations of the SBL and AR patterns, the above findings do at least suggest a likely link. Such a link can be better seen from composites of geopotential height anomalies at 300 hPa for the NAONAO(NAONAO) transition events. Nonetheless, the most important finding obtained in the present study is that the different frequencies of occurrence of the NAO regime transition events (NAONAO and NAO NAO) within P1 and P2 may be a contributing factor toward the interannual variability of the winter mean NAO index. The different impact of both the in-situ NAO events and the NAO transition events on the interannual NAO variability can be further seen from a calculation with the NAO transition events subtracted (see below).



d) Probability density function and the variation of the NAO index

To evaluate the impact of the NAO regime transitions on the winter mean NAO index, it is helpful to examine the difference between two types of PDFs of the daily NAO index; one with all NAO and NAO events retained, and the other with the NAO (NAO) events within the NAONAO (NAONAO) transitions in P1 (P2) removed. Figure 10 shows the PDFs of the daily NAO index for these two cases and the corresponding Gaussian PDFs. In this figure, the thick solid (dashed) curve corresponds to the case with (without) the NAONAO (NAO NAO) transition events within P1 (P2), whereas the thin solid (dotted) curve represents the corresponding Gaussian PDF in P1 (P2). As revealed in this figure, the positive NAO index tends to have both a higher probability density and a shift to large positive values within P1 when the NAONAO transition events take place. This point is more evident, as can be seen from the Gaussian PDF distributions even though the probability density of the daily NAO index is far from being Gaussian. In contrast, the positive NAO index appears to have a lower probability density and a tendency toward relatively small positive values in P2 when NAO NAO transition events occur. Thus, as Fig.10 indicates, the NAO transition events can affect the NAO index by changing the frequencies of NAO and NAO events within P1 and P2. Furthermore, a comparison between Figs.8 and 9 shows that the strength and location of the NAO anomaly is influenced by the frequency of NAO transition events. Thus, it is likely that the interannual variability of the winter NAO index within P1 and P2 is related to the different number of intraseasonal NAONAO and NAONAOtransition events in the two time intervals.
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