Changes in North Atlantic atmospheric circulation in a warmer climate favor winter flooding and summer drought over Europe

Efi Rousi, Frank Selten, Stefan Rahmstorf, Dim Coumou

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

15 Downloads (Pure)


Changes in atmospheric circulation under increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are important because of their implications for weather extremes and associated societal risks. However, uncertainties in models and future projections are still large and drivers behind circulation changes are not well understood. Particularly for Europe, a potential weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is considered important as it affects SST patterns and ocean-atmosphere heat fluxes and, subsequently, European climate. Here we detect and characterize changes in atmospheric circulation patterns over the North Atlantic under increasingCO2 concentrations in simulations of a very highresolution, fully coupled climate model (CM2.6) with a realistic representation of the AMOC. We use an objective clustering technique (self-organizing maps) and validate the model's clusters against reanalysis data.We compare the frequency of those patterns in a CO2 doubling experiment, characterized by an AMOC decline, with those in a preindustrial run, and find statistically significant changes. The most robust findings are 1) a ;30% increase in zonal flow regimes in February, relevant for flood risk in northwestern Europe, and 2) a ;60% increase in anticyclonic (high pressure) circulation directly west of the United Kingdom in August, relevant for western and central European drought. A robust decrease in the frequency of Scandinavian blocking is also seen across most months and seasons. Despite the uncertainties regarding atmospheric circulation response to climate change, our findings contribute to the increasing evidence for the emergence of robust high-impact changes over Europe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2277-2295
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number6
Early online date22 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. We thank NOAA/GFDL for running the GFDL-CM2.6 model and Dr. Stephen Griffies of GFDL for kindly providing us with the CM2.6 model data. We also thank the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) for making the ERA-Interim reanalysis dataset available. We are grateful to three anonymous reviewers, who gave thoughtful suggestions and helped improve the original manuscript. ER and DC were supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research within the GOTHAM project (Grant 01LP1611A). The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Meteorological Society. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Climate change
  • Climate classification/regimes
  • Europe
  • General circulation models
  • North Atlantic Ocean
  • Teleconnections


Dive into the research topics of 'Changes in North Atlantic atmospheric circulation in a warmer climate favor winter flooding and summer drought over Europe'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this