A unique glimpse of the Arctic from a period before the present era of climate warming is found in the records of the first International Polar Year (IPY) of 1882–83. Inspired by the Austrian scientist and explorer Carl Weyprecht, the purpose of the IPY was to discover the fundamental laws governing global meteorological and geophysical phenomena. It was understood that new discoveries would depend upon a program of simultaneous observations that encompassed the polar regions. The collection and analysis of the first series of coordinated meteorological observations ever obtained in the Arctic was one of the principal objects of the IPY. The field program was successfully completed and a vast body of data was collected, but afterward it fell into obscurity with little analysis completed.

We have analyzed for the first time the synchronous meteorological observations recorded during the first IPY. This analysis contributes to the goal of the upcoming fourth IPY scheduled for 2007–08: to understand the climate changes currently unfolding in the Arctic/Antarctic within the context of the past. We found that surface air temperature (SAT) and sea level pressure (SLP) observed during 1882–83 were within the limits of recent climatology, but with a slight skew toward colder temperatures, and showed a wide range of variability from place to place over the course of the year, which is a feature typical of the Arctic climate today. Monthly SAT, SLP, and associated phenological anomalies were regionally coherent and consistent with patterns of variability in the atmospheric circulation such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Evidence of a strong NAO signature in the observed SAT anomalies during the first IPY highlights the impact of large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns on regional climate variability in the Arctic, both today and in the past.

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Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Washington

*Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Contribution Number 2870