The Spatial Structure of the Annual Cycle in Surface Temperature: Amplitude, Phase, and Lagrangian History

Karen A. McKinnon Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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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 climatological annual cycle in surface air temperature, defined by its amplitude and phase lag with respect to solar insolation, is one of the most familiar aspects of the climate system. Here, the authors identify three first-order features of the spatial structure of amplitude and phase lag and explain them using simple physical models. Amplitude and phase lag 1) are broadly consistent with a land and ocean end-member mixing model but 2) exhibit overlap between land and ocean and, despite this overlap, 3) show a systematically greater lag over ocean than land for a given amplitude. Based on previous work diagnosing relative ocean or land influence as an important control on the extratropical annual cycle, the authors use a Lagrangian trajectory model to quantify this influence as the weighted amount of time that an ensemble of air parcels has spent over ocean or land. This quantity explains 84% of the space–time variance in the extratropical annual cycle, as well as features 1 and 2. All three features can be explained using a simple energy balance model with land and ocean surfaces and an advecting atmosphere. This model explains 94% of the space–time variance of the annual cycle in an illustrative midlatitude zonal band when incorporating the results of the trajectory model. The aforementioned features of annual variability in surface air temperature thus appear to be explained by the coupling of land and ocean through mean atmospheric circulation.

Corresponding author address: Karen A. McKinnon, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford St., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail: mckinnon@fas.harvard.edu

Abstract

The climatological annual cycle in surface air temperature, defined by its amplitude and phase lag with respect to solar insolation, is one of the most familiar aspects of the climate system. Here, the authors identify three first-order features of the spatial structure of amplitude and phase lag and explain them using simple physical models. Amplitude and phase lag 1) are broadly consistent with a land and ocean end-member mixing model but 2) exhibit overlap between land and ocean and, despite this overlap, 3) show a systematically greater lag over ocean than land for a given amplitude. Based on previous work diagnosing relative ocean or land influence as an important control on the extratropical annual cycle, the authors use a Lagrangian trajectory model to quantify this influence as the weighted amount of time that an ensemble of air parcels has spent over ocean or land. This quantity explains 84% of the space–time variance in the extratropical annual cycle, as well as features 1 and 2. All three features can be explained using a simple energy balance model with land and ocean surfaces and an advecting atmosphere. This model explains 94% of the space–time variance of the annual cycle in an illustrative midlatitude zonal band when incorporating the results of the trajectory model. The aforementioned features of annual variability in surface air temperature thus appear to be explained by the coupling of land and ocean through mean atmospheric circulation.

Corresponding author address: Karen A. McKinnon, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford St., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail: mckinnon@fas.harvard.edu
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