Changes in meandering of the Northern Hemisphere circulation

Giorgia Di Capua, Dim Coumou

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Strong waves in the mid-latitude circulation have been linked to extreme surface weather and thus changes in waviness could have serious consequences for society. Several theories have been proposed which could alter waviness, including tropical sea surface temperature anomalies or rapid climate change in the Arctic. However, so far it remains unclear whether any changes in waviness have actually occurred. Here we propose a novel meandering index which captures the maximum waviness in geopotential height contours at any given day, using all information of the full spatial position of each contour. Data are analysed on different time scale (from daily to 11 day running means) and both on hemispheric and regional scales. Using quantile regressions, we analyse how seasonal distributions of this index have changed over 1979-2015. The most robust changes are detected for autumn which has seen a pronounced increase in strongly meandering patterns at the hemispheric level as well as over the Eurasian sector. In summer for both the hemisphere and the Eurasian sector, significant downward trends in meandering are detected on daily timescales which is consistent with the recently reported decrease in summer storm track activity. The American sector shows the strongest increase in meandering in the warm season: in particular for 11 day running mean data, indicating enhanced amplitudes of quasi-stationary waves. Our findings have implications for both the occurrence of recent cold spells and persistent heat waves in the mid-latitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number094028
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2016


  • climate change
  • extreme events
  • mid-latitudes flow
  • Rossby waves


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