Changes in the Seasonal Cycle of Temperature and Atmospheric Circulation

Alexander R. Stine Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Peter Huybers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Abstract

The vast majority of variability in the instrumental surface temperature record is at annual frequencies. Systematic changes in the yearly Fourier component of surface temperature have been observed since the midtwentieth century, including a shift toward earlier seasonal transitions over land. Here it is shown that the variability in the amplitude and phase of the annual cycle of surface temperature in the northern extratropics is related to Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation as represented by the northern annular mode (NAM) and the Pacific–North America mode (PNA). The phase of the seasonal cycle is most strongly influenced by changes in spring atmospheric circulation, whereas amplitude is most strongly influenced by winter circulation. A statistical model is developed based on the NAM and PNA values in these seasons and it successfully predicts the interdecadal trends in the seasonal cycle using parameters diagnosed only at interannual time scales. In particular, 70% of the observed amplitude trends and 68% of the observed phase trends are predicted over land, and the residual trends are consistent with internal variability. The strong relationship between atmospheric circulation and the structure of the seasonal cycle indicates that physical explanations for changes in atmospheric circulation also extend to explaining changes in the structure of the seasonal cycle.

Corresponding author address: Alexander R. Stine, Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 24 Oxford St., 4th floor, Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail: stine@fas.harvard.edu

Abstract

The vast majority of variability in the instrumental surface temperature record is at annual frequencies. Systematic changes in the yearly Fourier component of surface temperature have been observed since the midtwentieth century, including a shift toward earlier seasonal transitions over land. Here it is shown that the variability in the amplitude and phase of the annual cycle of surface temperature in the northern extratropics is related to Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation as represented by the northern annular mode (NAM) and the Pacific–North America mode (PNA). The phase of the seasonal cycle is most strongly influenced by changes in spring atmospheric circulation, whereas amplitude is most strongly influenced by winter circulation. A statistical model is developed based on the NAM and PNA values in these seasons and it successfully predicts the interdecadal trends in the seasonal cycle using parameters diagnosed only at interannual time scales. In particular, 70% of the observed amplitude trends and 68% of the observed phase trends are predicted over land, and the residual trends are consistent with internal variability. The strong relationship between atmospheric circulation and the structure of the seasonal cycle indicates that physical explanations for changes in atmospheric circulation also extend to explaining changes in the structure of the seasonal cycle.

Corresponding author address: Alexander R. Stine, Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 24 Oxford St., 4th floor, Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail: stine@fas.harvard.edu
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