A Census of Atmospheric Variability From Seconds to Decades

Paul D. Williams*, M. Joan Alexander, Elizabeth A. Barnes, Amy H. Butler, Huw C. Davies, Chaim I. Garfinkel, Yochanan Kushnir, Todd P. Lane, Julie K. Lundquist, Olivia Martius, Ryan N. Maue, W. Richard Peltier, Kaoru Sato, Adam A. Scaife, Chidong Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

25 Scopus citations


This paper synthesizes and summarizes atmospheric variability on time scales from seconds to decades through a phenomenological census. We focus mainly on unforced variability in the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere. In addition to atmosphere-only modes, our scope also includes coupled modes, in which the atmosphere interacts with the other components of the Earth system, such as the ocean, hydrosphere, and cryosphere. The topics covered include turbulence on time scales of seconds and minutes, gravity waves on time scales of hours, weather systems on time scales of days, atmospheric blocking on time scales of weeks, the Madden–Julian Oscillation on time scales of months, the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation and El Niño–Southern Oscillation on time scales of years, and the North Atlantic, Arctic, Antarctic, Pacific Decadal, and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillations on time scales of decades. The paper serves as an introduction to a special collection of Geophysical Research Letters on atmospheric variability. We hope that both this paper and the collection will serve as a useful resource for the atmospheric science community and will act as inspiration for setting future research directions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)11,201-11,211
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number21
StatePublished - 16 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
P.D.W. is funded by the Royal Society under a University Research Fellowship award UF130571. E.A.B. is funded by the National Science Foundation under grant AGS-1545675. C.I.G. is funded by the Israel Science Foundation under grant 1558/14 and by the European Union Horizon 2020 research and inno vation program under European Research Council starting grant 677756. T.P.L. is funded by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes under grant CE170100023. J.K.L. is funded by the National Science Foundation under CAREER award AGS-1554055. O.M. is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation under grant 200021-156059. K.S. is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research grant 25247075 and by the Japan Science and Technology Agency under CREST grant JPMJCR1663. A.A.S. is funded by the joint DECC/DEFRA Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme under grant GA01101. Through the coauthorship of C.Z., this paper is Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory contribution number 4703. This paper contains no new data or models.

Publisher Copyright:
©2017. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • jet stream
  • oscillation
  • turbulence
  • variability
  • waves
  • weather


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