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North Atlantic Warming Tied to Natural Variability; but Global Warming at Play Elsewhere
By Wendy Heller, January 4, 2008 @ 02:00 AM (EST)
Source: Eurekalert.org

This striking pattern can be explained largely by the influence of a natural and cyclical wind circulation pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), wrote authors of a study published Thursday, Jan. 3, in Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.

Winds that power the NAO are driven by atmospheric pressure differences between areas around Iceland and the Azores. “The winds have a tremendous impact on the underlying ocean,” said Susan Lozier, a professor of physical oceanography at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences who is the study’s first author.

Other studies cited in the Science Express report suggest human-caused global warming may be affecting recent ocean heating trends. But Lozier and her coauthors found their data can’t support that view for the North Atlantic. “It is premature to conclusively attribute these regional patterns of heat gain to greenhouse warming,” they wrote.

“The take-home message is that the NAO produces strong natural variability,” said Lozier in an interview. “The simplistic view of global warming is that everything forward in time will warm uniformly. But this very strong natural variability is superimposed on human-caused warming. So researchers will need to unravel that natural variability to get at the part humans are responsible for.”

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