Stochasticity and spatial resonance in interdecadal climate fluctuations Academic Article uri icon


  • Ocean-atmosphere interaction plays a key role in climate fluctuations on interdecadal timescales. In this study, different aspects of this interaction are investigated using an idealized ocean-atmosphere model, and a hierarchy of uncoupled and stochastic models derived from it. The atmospheric component is an eddy-resolving two-level global primitive equation model with simplified physical parameterizations. The oceanic component is a zonally averaged sector model of the thermohaline circulation. The coupled model exhibits spontaneous oscillations of the thermohaline circulation on interdecadal timescales. The interdecadal oscillation has qualitatively realistic features, such as dipolar sea surface temperature anomalies in the extratropics. Atmospheric forcing of the ocean plays a dominant role in exciting this oscillation. Although the coupled model is in itself deterministic, it is convenient to conceptualize the atmospheric forcing arising from weather excitation as having stochastic time dependence. Spatial correlations inherent in the atmospheric low-frequency variability play a crucial role in determining the oceanic interdecadal variability, through a form of spatial resonance. Local feedback from the ocean affects the amplitude of the interdecadal variability. The spatial patterns of correlations between the atmospheric flow and the oceanic variability fall into two categories: (i) upstream forcing patterns, and (ii) downstream response patterns. Both categories of patterns are expressible as linear combinations of the dominant modes of variability associated with the uncoupled atmosphere.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Saravanan, R., & McWilliams, J. C.

citation count

  • 72

complete list of authors

  • Saravanan, R||McWilliams, JC

publication date

  • September 1997