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The Effect of Climate Change on the Variability of the Northern Hemisphere Stratospheric Polar Vortex

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  • 1 National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
  • | 2 Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Department of Meteorology, Reading University, Reading, United Kingdom
  • | 4 Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
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Abstract

With extreme variability of the Arctic polar vortex being a key link for stratosphere–troposphere influences, its evolution into the twenty-first century is important for projections of changing surface climate in response to greenhouse gases. Variability of the stratospheric vortex is examined using a state-of-the-art climate model and a suite of specifically developed vortex diagnostics. The model has a fully coupled ocean and a fully resolved stratosphere. Analysis of the standard stratospheric zonal mean wind diagnostic shows no significant increase over the twenty-first century in the number of major sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) from its historical value of 0.7 events per decade, although the monthly distribution of SSWs does vary, with events becoming more evenly dispersed throughout the winter. However, further analyses using geometric-based vortex diagnostics show that the vortex mean state becomes weaker, and the vortex centroid is climatologically more equatorward by up to 2.5°, especially during early winter. The results using these diagnostics not only characterize the vortex structure and evolution but also emphasize the need for vortex-centric diagnostics over zonally averaged measures. Finally, vortex variability is subdivided into wave-1 (displaced) and -2 (split) components, and it is implied that vortex displacement events increase in frequency under climate change, whereas little change is observed in splitting events.

Corresponding author address: Daniel Mitchell, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PU, United Kingdom. E-mail: mitchell@atm.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

With extreme variability of the Arctic polar vortex being a key link for stratosphere–troposphere influences, its evolution into the twenty-first century is important for projections of changing surface climate in response to greenhouse gases. Variability of the stratospheric vortex is examined using a state-of-the-art climate model and a suite of specifically developed vortex diagnostics. The model has a fully coupled ocean and a fully resolved stratosphere. Analysis of the standard stratospheric zonal mean wind diagnostic shows no significant increase over the twenty-first century in the number of major sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) from its historical value of 0.7 events per decade, although the monthly distribution of SSWs does vary, with events becoming more evenly dispersed throughout the winter. However, further analyses using geometric-based vortex diagnostics show that the vortex mean state becomes weaker, and the vortex centroid is climatologically more equatorward by up to 2.5°, especially during early winter. The results using these diagnostics not only characterize the vortex structure and evolution but also emphasize the need for vortex-centric diagnostics over zonally averaged measures. Finally, vortex variability is subdivided into wave-1 (displaced) and -2 (split) components, and it is implied that vortex displacement events increase in frequency under climate change, whereas little change is observed in splitting events.

Corresponding author address: Daniel Mitchell, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PU, United Kingdom. E-mail: mitchell@atm.ox.ac.uk
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