Bidecadal North Atlantic ocean circulation variability controlled by timing of volcanic eruptions

Nat Commun. 2015 Mar 30;6:6545. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7545.


While bidecadal climate variability has been evidenced in several North Atlantic paleoclimate records, its drivers remain poorly understood. Here we show that the subset of CMIP5 historical climate simulations that produce such bidecadal variability exhibits a robust synchronization, with a maximum in Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) 15 years after the 1963 Agung eruption. The mechanisms at play involve salinity advection from the Arctic and explain the timing of Great Salinity Anomalies observed in the 1970s and the 1990s. Simulations, as well as Greenland and Iceland paleoclimate records, indicate that coherent bidecadal cycles were excited following five Agung-like volcanic eruptions of the last millennium. Climate simulations and a conceptual model reveal that destructive interference caused by the Pinatubo 1991 eruption may have damped the observed decreasing trend of the AMOC in the 2000s. Our results imply a long-lasting climatic impact and predictability following the next Agung-like eruption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't