Research Article

Multidecadal climate oscillations during the past millennium driven by volcanic forcing

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Science  05 Mar 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6533, pp. 1014-1019
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc5810

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A volcanic source of variation

The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), a 50- to 70-year quasiperiodic variation of climate centered in the North Atlantic region, was long thought to be an internal oscillation of the climate system. Mann et al. now show that this variation is forced externally by episodes of high-amplitude explosive volcanism. They used an ensemble of climate models to evaluate the causes of the AMO, finding that volcanos are the most important influence, and that there is no evidence to show that it has been internally generated during the last millennium.

Science, this issue p. 1014


Past research argues for an internal multidecadal (40- to 60-year) oscillation distinct from climate noise. Recent studies have claimed that this so-termed Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is instead a manifestation of competing time-varying effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols. That conclusion is bolstered by the absence of robust multidecadal climate oscillations in control simulations of current-generation models. Paleoclimate data, however, do demonstrate multidecadal oscillatory behavior during the preindustrial era. By comparing control and forced “Last Millennium” simulations, we show that these apparent multidecadal oscillations are an artifact of pulses of volcanic activity during the preindustrial era that project markedly onto the multidecadal (50- to 70-year) frequency band. We conclude that there is no compelling evidence for internal multidecadal oscillations in the climate system.

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