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Run of dismal UK summers linked to temperature changes in the Atlantic Ocean


Atlantic ocean photoResearch from the University of Reading, which looked at the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean on UK weather, featured large and loud in a Met Office workshop on the 18th June to discuss Britain and Europe's unusual seasonal weather over the past few years.

A series of wet summers in Britain, England's wettest ever year in 2012, and the coldest spring for 50 years in 2013 prompted weather and climate researchers - including four from the University of Reading - to meet at the Met Office in Exeter to discuss how to provide some answers about what's going on.


Warm North Atlantic linked to UK wet summers

The workshop discussed research by Prof Rowan Sutton and Dr Buwen Dong that shows North Atlantic warming in the 1990s coincided with a shift to wetter summers in the UK and northern Europe and hotter, drier summers around the Mediterranean. The patterns identified match those experienced during summer 2012, when the UK had the wettest summer in 100 years, while the Mediterranean suffered with temperatures as high as 40 degrees centigrade or more.

This research built on earlier research I published with another colleague, Dan Hodson, in Science in 2005 and an important study by Jeff Knight and colleagues at the Met Office, which was published in 2006.


Are we going to get wet summers every year?

Many different factors can affect UK and European weather and the Atlantic is just one of those. However, the research does suggest that the Atlantic Ocean has played a part in the run of dismal UK sumers that we have experienced in recent years. The research suggests that the warming of the North Atlantic in the 1990s is increasing the chances of wetter summers for the UK, but the UK could still experience a warm, dry summer because of the many complex influences on our weather.


How long will the North Atlantic remain in this warm phase?

The figure below shows a timeseries of North Atlantic sea surface temperature that has been detrended to remove the long term warming trend.

The decadal cycles are shown by the thick red line. The transition to the warm phase is clearly seen in the 1990s and the earlier warm phase from 1931 to 1960. Scientists don't know exactly how long the current warm phase will last. This is an active area of research at the University of Reading. Based on current evidence it looks like the pattern might persist for anything between a year and a decade; but we definitely can't say that it WILL persist for a decade. 


AMO detrended timeseries

Professor Rowan Sutton, Director of Climate Research in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and a researcher in the University of Reading's Walker Institute, led the research.

He said: "The North Atlantic ocean has alternated slowly between warmer and cooler conditions over the last 100 years. We saw a rapid switch to a warmer North Atlantic in the 1990s and we think this is increasing the chances of wet summers over the UK and hot, dry summers around the Mediterranean - a situation that is likely to persist for as long as the North Atlantic remains in a warm phase.

"A transition back to a cooler North Atlantic, favouring drier summers in the UK and northern Europe, is likely and could occur rapidly. Exactly when this will happen is difficult to predict. Based on current evidence it looks like the pattern might persist for anything between a year and a decade; but we definitely can't say that it WILL persist for a decade.  We're working on it!"


You can find out more about the research here>>


See press release about the research>>

See press release about Reading's contribution to the Met Office workshop on 18th June>>






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