Using Climate Divisions to Analyze Variations and Trends in Alaska Temperature and Precipitation

Peter A. Bieniek International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska

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John E. Walsh International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska

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Richard L. Thoman Alaska Region, NOAA/National Weather Service, Fairbanks, Alaska

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Uma S. Bhatt Department of Atmospheric Sciences, College of Natural Science and Mathematics, and Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska

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Abstract

By extending the record of Alaskan divisional temperature and precipitation back in time, regional variations and trends of temperature and precipitation over 1920–2012 are documented. The use of the divisional framework highlights the greater spatial coherence of temperature variations relative to precipitation variations.

The divisional time series of temperature are characterized by large interannual variability superimposed upon low-frequency variability, as well as by an underlying trend. Low-frequency variability corresponding to the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) includes Alaska’s generally warm period of the 1920s and 1930s, a cold period from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s, a warm period from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, and a cooler period in the most recent decade. An exception to the cooling of the past decade is the North Slope climate division, which has continued to warm. There has been a gradual upward trend of Alaskan temperatures relative to the PDO since 1920, resulting in a statewide average warming of about 1°C.

In contrast to temperature, variations of precipitation are less consistent across climate divisions and have much less multidecadal character. Thirty-year trends of both variables are highly sensitive to the choice of the subperiod within the overall 93-yr period. The trends also vary seasonally, with winter and spring contributing the most to the annual trends.

Corresponding author address: Peter A. Bieniek, International Arctic Research Center, P.O. Box 757340, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7340. E-mail: pbieniek@alaska.edu

Abstract

By extending the record of Alaskan divisional temperature and precipitation back in time, regional variations and trends of temperature and precipitation over 1920–2012 are documented. The use of the divisional framework highlights the greater spatial coherence of temperature variations relative to precipitation variations.

The divisional time series of temperature are characterized by large interannual variability superimposed upon low-frequency variability, as well as by an underlying trend. Low-frequency variability corresponding to the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) includes Alaska’s generally warm period of the 1920s and 1930s, a cold period from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s, a warm period from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, and a cooler period in the most recent decade. An exception to the cooling of the past decade is the North Slope climate division, which has continued to warm. There has been a gradual upward trend of Alaskan temperatures relative to the PDO since 1920, resulting in a statewide average warming of about 1°C.

In contrast to temperature, variations of precipitation are less consistent across climate divisions and have much less multidecadal character. Thirty-year trends of both variables are highly sensitive to the choice of the subperiod within the overall 93-yr period. The trends also vary seasonally, with winter and spring contributing the most to the annual trends.

Corresponding author address: Peter A. Bieniek, International Arctic Research Center, P.O. Box 757340, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7340. E-mail: pbieniek@alaska.edu
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