Articles | Volume 14
10 Feb 2017
 | 10 Feb 2017

NAO and extreme ocean states in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Emily Gleeson, Sarah Gallagher, Colm Clancy, and Frédéric Dias

Abstract. Large scale atmospheric oscillations are known to have an influence on waves in the North Atlantic. In quantifying how the wave and wind climate of this region may change towards the end of the century due to climate change, it is useful to investigate the influence of large scale oscillations using indices such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO: fluctuations in the difference between the Icelandic low pressure system and the Azore high pressure system). In this study a statistical analysis of the station-based NAO index was carried out using an ensemble of EC-Earth global climate simulations, where EC-Earth is a European-developed atmosphere ocean sea-ice coupled climate model. The NAO index was compared to observations and to projected changes in the index by the end of the century under the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 forcing scenarios. In addition, an ensemble of EC-Earth driven WAVEWATCH III wave model projections over the North Atlantic was analysed to determine the correlations between the NAO and significant wave height (Hs) and the NAO and extreme ocean states. For the most part, no statistically significant differences were found between the distributions of observed and modelled station-based NAO or in projected distributions of the NAO.

Means and extremes of Hs are projected to decrease on average by the end of this century. The 95th percentile of Hs is strongly positively correlated to the NAO. Projections of Hs extremes are location dependent and in fact, under the influence of positive NAO the 20-year return levels of Hs were found to be amplified in some regions. However, it is important to note that the projected decreases in the 95th percentile of Hs off the west coast of Ireland are not statistically significant in one of the RCP4.5 and one of the RCP8.5 simulations (me41, me83) which indicates that there is still uncertainty in the projections of higher percentiles.

Short summary
Large scale atmospheric oscillations, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation are known to have an influence on waves in the North Atlantic. This study investigated the influence of the NAO on the present and future wind and wave climate in the Northeast Atlantic near Ireland.