Is the North Atlantic Oscillation a breaking wave?

Christian Franzke, Sukyoung Lee, Steven B. Feldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

204 Scopus citations


Given the recent observational evidence that the positive (negative) phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is the remnant of anticyclonic (cyclonic) wave breaking, this study uses a multilevel primitive equation model to investigate important dynamical attributes of the above wave breaking behavior. For this purpose, a hierarchy of different basic states (two- and three-dimensional) and initial perturbations are used. With the three-dimensional climatological flow as the basic state, it is found that initial perturbations located equatorward (poleward) and upstream of the climatological Atlantic jet lead to wave breaking similar to that of the positive (negative) NAO phase. Consistently, analysis of observational data indeed shows that the Pacific storm track is displaced equatorward (poleward) prior the onset of the positive (negative) NAO phase. This result suggests that the latitudinal position of the Pacific storm track plays an important role for determining the phase of the NAO. Sensitivity experiments show that individual life cycles resemble each other only within the NAO region, but have large case-to-case variability outside of the NAO region. Calculations with zonally symmetric basic states fail to produce wave breaking of the correct spatial and temporal scale, underscoring the dynamical significance of the three-dimensional climatological flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-160
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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