On the zonal structure of the North Atlantic oscillation and annular modes

Edwin P. Gerber, Geoffrey K. Vallis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The zonal structure and dynamics of the dipolar patterns of intraseasonal variability in the extratropical atmosphere - namely, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the so-called annular modes of variability - are investigated in an idealized general circulation model. Particular attention is focused on the relationships linking the zonal structure of the stationary waves, synoptic variability (i.e., the storm tracks), and the zonal structure of the patterns of intraseasonal variability. Large-scale topography and diabatic anomalies are introduced to modify and concentrate the synoptic variability, establishing a recipe for a localized storm track. Comparison of the large-scale forcing, synoptic variability, and patterns of intraseasonal variability suggests a nonlinear relationship between the large-scale forcing and the variability. It is found that localized NAO-like patterns arise from the confluence of topographic and diabatic forcing and that the patterns are more localized than one would expect based on superposition of the responses to topography and thermal forcing alone. The connection between the eddy life cycle of growth and decay and the localization of the intraseasonal variability is investigated. Both the termination of the storm track and the localization of the intraseasonal variability in the GCM depend on a difluent region of weak upper-level flow, where eddies break and dissipate rather than propagate energy forward through downstream development. The authors' interpretation suggests that the North Atlantic storm track and the NAO are two manifestations of the same phenomenon. Conclusions from the GCM study are critiqued by comparison with observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)332-352
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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