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Poleward Shift and Change of Frontal Activity in the Southern Hemisphere over the Last 40 Years

Silvina A. SolmanCentro de Investigaciones del Mar y la Atmósfera, CONICET-UBA, DCAO/FCEN, UMI IFAECI/CNRS, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Isidoro OrlanskiAtmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Program, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

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Abstract

Several studies have documented the poleward shift of the midlatitude westerly jet of the Southern Hemisphere during the last decades of the twentieth century, mainly during the warm season. In this work the consistency between this change and the seasonal changes in frontal activity and precipitation are explored. The authors also attempt to identify the correlation between frontal activity and precipitation changes.

Frontal activity is defined using the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40) dataset for the period 1962–2001 as the temperature gradient times the relative vorticity at 850 hPa. Considering cyclonic systems only, an enhancement of the frontal activity at high latitudes in the last two decades is apparent. However, the pattern of frontal activity change is not zonally symmetric, with the zonal asymmetries consistent with the climate change signal of the zonal anomaly of the 300-hPa geopotential height.

The pattern of precipitation change, showing midlatitude drying and high-latitude moistening, is consistent with the pattern of the frontal activity change, explaining to a large extent both the zonal mean and asymmetric rainfall changes. This consistency is also found in terms of the year-to-year variability of the zonal mean at both mid- and high latitudes. However, the frontal activity has a complex relationship with rainfall (not every frontal system is associated with rainfall events), and this consistency is unclear over some specific regions.

Results presented here highlight the robust link between the change in the asymmetric component of the upper-level circulation, the frontal activity, and rainfall over the mid- to high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere.

Corresponding author address: Silvina A. Solman, CIMA (CONICET-UBA), Ciudad Universitaria, Pabellón II-2do. Piso (C1428EGA), Buenos Aires, Argentina. E-mail: solman@cima.fcen.uba.ar

Abstract

Several studies have documented the poleward shift of the midlatitude westerly jet of the Southern Hemisphere during the last decades of the twentieth century, mainly during the warm season. In this work the consistency between this change and the seasonal changes in frontal activity and precipitation are explored. The authors also attempt to identify the correlation between frontal activity and precipitation changes.

Frontal activity is defined using the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40) dataset for the period 1962–2001 as the temperature gradient times the relative vorticity at 850 hPa. Considering cyclonic systems only, an enhancement of the frontal activity at high latitudes in the last two decades is apparent. However, the pattern of frontal activity change is not zonally symmetric, with the zonal asymmetries consistent with the climate change signal of the zonal anomaly of the 300-hPa geopotential height.

The pattern of precipitation change, showing midlatitude drying and high-latitude moistening, is consistent with the pattern of the frontal activity change, explaining to a large extent both the zonal mean and asymmetric rainfall changes. This consistency is also found in terms of the year-to-year variability of the zonal mean at both mid- and high latitudes. However, the frontal activity has a complex relationship with rainfall (not every frontal system is associated with rainfall events), and this consistency is unclear over some specific regions.

Results presented here highlight the robust link between the change in the asymmetric component of the upper-level circulation, the frontal activity, and rainfall over the mid- to high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere.

Corresponding author address: Silvina A. Solman, CIMA (CONICET-UBA), Ciudad Universitaria, Pabellón II-2do. Piso (C1428EGA), Buenos Aires, Argentina. E-mail: solman@cima.fcen.uba.ar
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