Weakening and shift of the Arctic stratospheric polar vortex: Internal variability or forced response?

William J.M. Seviour*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
428 Downloads (Pure)


Recent studies have proposed that the Arctic stratospheric polar vortex has weakened and shifted away from the North Pole during the past three decades. Some of these studies suggest that this trend has been driven by a decline in Arctic sea ice leading to enhanced zonal wave number 1 waves propagating into the stratosphere and that it has in turn contributed to a recent wintertime surface cooling over North America and some parts of Eurasia. Here trends in several measures of the location and strength of the stratospheric polar vortex from 1980 to 2016 are examined in two reanalysis products. All measures show weakening and equatorward shift trends, but only one measure, the vortex centroid latitude, has a trend which is statistically significant at the 95% level in both reanalyses. By comparing large ensembles of historical simulations with preindustrial control simulations for two coupled climate models, the ensemble mean response of the vortex is found to be small relative to internal variability. There is also no relationship between sea ice decline and trends in either vortex location or strength. Despite this, individual ensemble members are found to have vortex trends similar to those observed, indicating that these trends may be primarily a result of natural internally generated climate variability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3365-3373
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number7
Early online date14 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2017


  • internal variability
  • large ensemble
  • polar vortex
  • stratosphere


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