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Modeled Northern Hemisphere Winter Climate Response to Realistic Siberian Snow Anomalies

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  • 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • | 2 Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc., Lexington, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Wintertime Northern Hemisphere climate variability is investigated using large-ensemble (20) numerical GCM simulations. Control simulations with climatological surface (land and ocean) conditions indicate that the Arctic Oscillation (AO) is an internal mode of the Northern Hemisphere atmosphere, and that it can be triggered through a myriad of perturbations. In this study the role of autumn land surface snow conditions is investigated. Satellite observations of historical autumn–winter snow cover are applied over Siberia as model boundary conditions for two snow-forced experiments, one using the highest observed autumn snow cover extent over Siberia (1976) and another using the lowest extent (1988). The ensemble-mean difference between the two snow-forced experiments is computed to evaluate the climatic response to Siberian snow conditions. Experiment results suggest that Siberian snow conditions exert a modulating influence on the predominant wintertime Northern Hemisphere (AO) mode. Furthermore, an atmospheric teleconnection pathway is identified, involving well-known wave–mean flow interaction processes throughout the troposphere and stratosphere. Anomalously high Siberian snow increases local upward stationary wave flux activity, weakens the stratospheric polar vortex, and causes upper-troposphere stationary waves to refract poleward. These related stationary wave and mean flow anomalies propagate down through the troposphere via a positive feedback, which results in a downward-propagating negative AO anomaly during the winter season from the stratosphere to the surface. This pathway provides a physical explanation for how regional land surface snow anomalies can influence winter climate on a hemispheric scale. The results of this study may potentially lead to improved predictions of the winter AO mode, based on Siberian snow conditions during the preceding autumn.

Corresponding author address: Judah Cohen, Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc., 131 Hartwell Ave., Lexington, MA 02421. Email: jcohen@aer.com

Abstract

Wintertime Northern Hemisphere climate variability is investigated using large-ensemble (20) numerical GCM simulations. Control simulations with climatological surface (land and ocean) conditions indicate that the Arctic Oscillation (AO) is an internal mode of the Northern Hemisphere atmosphere, and that it can be triggered through a myriad of perturbations. In this study the role of autumn land surface snow conditions is investigated. Satellite observations of historical autumn–winter snow cover are applied over Siberia as model boundary conditions for two snow-forced experiments, one using the highest observed autumn snow cover extent over Siberia (1976) and another using the lowest extent (1988). The ensemble-mean difference between the two snow-forced experiments is computed to evaluate the climatic response to Siberian snow conditions. Experiment results suggest that Siberian snow conditions exert a modulating influence on the predominant wintertime Northern Hemisphere (AO) mode. Furthermore, an atmospheric teleconnection pathway is identified, involving well-known wave–mean flow interaction processes throughout the troposphere and stratosphere. Anomalously high Siberian snow increases local upward stationary wave flux activity, weakens the stratospheric polar vortex, and causes upper-troposphere stationary waves to refract poleward. These related stationary wave and mean flow anomalies propagate down through the troposphere via a positive feedback, which results in a downward-propagating negative AO anomaly during the winter season from the stratosphere to the surface. This pathway provides a physical explanation for how regional land surface snow anomalies can influence winter climate on a hemispheric scale. The results of this study may potentially lead to improved predictions of the winter AO mode, based on Siberian snow conditions during the preceding autumn.

Corresponding author address: Judah Cohen, Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc., 131 Hartwell Ave., Lexington, MA 02421. Email: jcohen@aer.com

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