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North Atlantic Surface Temperature Decrease

While most of the Earth’s surface shows consistent and rapid warming, there’s a spot in the North Atlantic that stands in marked contrast where recent winters have been characterized by rapid and extreme cooling that’s unprecedented in over 30 years. The cold has been attributed to the slowdown of the Gulf Stream System, and changes in atmospheric patterns.

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Climate science at a glance

  • As the global climate warms, isolated cooling trends can still occur, driven by disruption of regional circulation patterns or natural variability.
  • Cold and fresh surface and subsurface conditions in the north Atlantic are likely linked to weakening of the Gulf Stream System and unusual atmospheric patterns.
  • From the winter of 2013–2014 to 2016, there was a large region of persistently low surface temperatures accompanied by a sharp reduction in ocean heat content in the North Atlantic. The low temperatures in the North Atlantic occurred during a record hot year globally. This event is an area of active research.

North Atlantic temperature trends and climate change

  • (Josey et al. 2018): Cold ocean temperature anomalies have been observed in the mid- to high-latitude North Atlantic on interannual to centennial timescales. Air-sea interactions, and anomalous weather patterns, are contributing to this cold anomaly.
  • (Smeed et al. 2018): Cold and fresh surface and subsurface conditions in the north Atlantic are linked to weakened transport by the north Atlantic Current and AMOC.[3]
  • (IPCC, SROCC, 2019): "Recent relatively cold and fresh surface and subsurface conditions in the north Atlantic have been attributed to anomalous atmospheric forcing or weakened transport by the north Atlantic Current and AMOC, and in turn may have contributed to an intensification of deep convection in the Labrador Sea since 2012."
  • (IPCC, AR5, 2013): Such contributions to decreased density of the ocean surface layer in the North Atlantic could act to reduce deep ocean convection there and contribute to a near-term reduction of strength of Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation (AMOC). However, the strength of the AMOC can also be modulated by changes in temperature, such as those from changing radiative flux.”[1][2]

Select a pillar to filter signals

Air Mass Temperature Increase
Arctic Amplification
Extreme Heat and Heat Waves
Glacier and Ice Sheet Melt
Global Warming
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Land Ice and Snow Cover Decline
Land Surface Temperature Increase
Permafrost Thaw
Precipitation Falls as Rain Instead of Snow
Sea Ice Decline
Sea Surface Temperature Increase
Season Creep/ Phenology Change
Snowpack Decline
Snowpack Melting Earlier and/or Faster
Atmospheric Moisture Increase
Extreme Precipitation Increase
Runoff and Flood Risk Increase
Total Precipitation Increase
Atmospheric Blocking Increase
Atmospheric River Change
Extreme El Niño Frequency Increase
Gulf Stream System Weakening
Hadley Cell Expansion
Large Scale Global Circulation Change/ Dynamical Changes
North Atlantic Surface Temperature Decrease
Ocean Acidification Increase
Southwestern US Precipitation Decrease
Surface Ozone Change
Surface Wind Speed Change
Drought Risk Increase
Land Surface Drying Increase
Intense Atlantic Hurricane Frequency Increase
Intense Cyclone, Hurricane, Typhoon Frequency Increase
Intense Northwest Pacific Typhoon Frequency Increase
Tropical Cyclone Steering Change
Wildfire Risk Increase
Coastal Flooding Increase
Sea Level Rise
Air Mass Temperature Increase
Storm Surge Increase
Thermal Expansion of the Ocean
Winter Storm Risk Increase
Coral Bleaching Increase
Habitat Shift or Decline
Parasite, Bacteria and Virus Population Increase
Pine Beetle Outbreaks
Heat-Related Illness Increase
Infectious Gastrointestinal Disease Risk Increase
Respiratory Disease Risk Increase
Vector-Borne Disease Risk Increase
Storm Intensity Increase
Tornado Risk Increase
Wind Damage Risk Increase
What are Climate Signals?