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Rick Lader
,
Uma S. Bhatt
,
John E. Walsh
,
T. Scott Rupp
, and
Peter A. Bieniek

Abstract

Alaska is experiencing effects of global climate change that are due, in large part, to the positive feedback mechanisms associated with polar amplification. The major risk factors include loss of sea ice and glaciers, thawing permafrost, increased wildfires, and ocean acidification. Reanalyses, integral to understanding mechanisms of Alaska’s past climate and to helping to calibrate modeling efforts, are based on the output of weather forecast models that assimilate observations. This study evaluates temperature and precipitation from five reanalyses at monthly and daily time scales for the period 1979–2009. Monthly data are evaluated spatially at grid points and for six climate zones in Alaska. In addition, daily maximum temperature, minimum temperature, and precipitation from reanalyses are compared with meteorological-station data at six locations. The reanalyses evaluated in this study include the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis (R1), North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR), ERA-Interim, and the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA). Maps of seasonal bias and standard deviation, constructed from monthly data, show how the reanalyses agree with observations spatially. Cross correlations between the monthly gridded and daily station time series are computed to provide a measure of confidence that data users can assume when selecting reanalysis data in a region without many surface observations. A review of natural hazards in Alaska indicates that MERRA is the top reanalysis for wildfire and interior-flooding applications. CFSR is the recommended reanalysis for North Slope coastal erosion issues and, along with ERA-Interim, for heavy precipitation in southeastern Alaska.

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Peter A. Bieniek
,
Uma S. Bhatt
,
John E. Walsh
,
T. Scott Rupp
,
Jing Zhang
,
Jeremy R. Krieger
, and
Rick Lader

Abstract

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts interim reanalysis (ERA-Interim) has been downscaled using a regional model covering Alaska at 20-km spatial and hourly temporal resolution for 1979–2013. Stakeholders can utilize these enhanced-resolution data to investigate climate- and weather-related phenomena in Alaska. Temperature and precipitation are analyzed and compared among ERA-Interim, WRF Model downscaling, and in situ observations. Relative to ERA-Interim, the downscaling is shown to improve the spatial representation of temperature and precipitation around Alaska’s complex terrain. Improvements include increased winter and decreased summer higher-elevation downscaled seasonal average temperatures. Precipitation is also enhanced over higher elevations in all seasons relative to the reanalysis. These spatial distributions of temperature and precipitation are consistent with the few available gridded observational datasets that account for topography. The downscaled precipitation generally exceeds observationally derived estimates in all seasons over mainland Alaska, and it is less than observations in the southeast. Temperature biases tended to be more mixed, and the downscaling reduces absolute bias at higher elevations, especially in winter. Careful selection of data for local site analysis from the downscaling can help to reduce these biases, especially those due to inconsistencies in elevation. Improved meteorological station coverage at higher elevations will be necessary to better evaluate gridded downscaled products in Alaska because biases vary and may even change sign with elevation.

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A. D. McGuire
,
J. E. Walsh
,
J. S. Kimball
,
J. S. Clein
,
S. E. Euskirchen
,
S. Drobot
,
U. C. Herzfeld
,
J. Maslanik
,
R. B. Lammers
,
M. A. Rawlins
,
C. J. Vorosmarty
,
T. S. Rupp
,
W. Wu
, and
M. Calef

Abstract

The primary goal of the Western Arctic Linkage Experiment (WALE) was to better understand uncertainties of simulated hydrologic and ecosystem dynamics of the western Arctic in the context of 1) uncertainties in the data available to drive the models and 2) different approaches to simulating regional hydrology and ecosystem dynamics. Analyses of datasets on climate available for driving hydrologic and ecosystem models within the western Arctic during the late twentieth century indicate that there are substantial differences among the mean states of datasets for temperature, precipitation, vapor pressure, and radiation variables. Among the studies that examined temporal trends among the alternative climate datasets, there is not much consensus on trends among the datasets. In contrast, monthly and interannual variations of some variables showed some correlation across the datasets. The application of hydrology models driven by alternative climate drivers revealed that the simulation of regional hydrology was sensitive to precipitation and water vapor differences among the driving datasets and that accurate simulation of regional water balance is limited by biases in the forcing data. Satellite-based analyses for the region indicate that vegetation productivity of the region increased during the last two decades of the twentieth century because of earlier spring thaw, and the temporal variability of vegetation productivity simulated by different models from 1980 to 2000 was generally consistent with estimates based on the satellite record for applications driven with alternative climate datasets. However, the magnitude of the fluxes differed by as much as a factor of 2.5 among applications driven with different climate data, and spatial patterns of temporal trends in carbon dynamics were quite different among simulations. Finally, the study identified that the simulation of fire by ecosystem models is particularly sensitive to alternative climate datasets, with little or no fire simulated for some datasets. The results of WALE identify the importance of conducting retrospective analyses prior to coupling hydrology and ecosystem models with climate system models. For applications of hydrology and ecosystem models driven by projections of future climate, the authors recommend a coupling strategy in which future changes from climate model simulations are superimposed on the present mean climate of the most reliable datasets of historical climate.

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James L. Partain Jr.
,
Sharon Alden
,
Heidi Strader
,
Uma S. Bhatt
,
Peter A. Bieniek
,
Brian R. Brettschneider
,
John E. Walsh
,
Rick T. Lader
,
Peter Q. Olsson
,
T. Scott Rupp
,
Richard L. Thoman Jr.
,
Alison D. York
, and
Robert H. Ziel
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