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James E. Overland and Muyin Wang

Abstract

The last decade shows increased variability in the Arctic Oscillation (AO) index for December. Over eastern North America such increased variability depended on amplification of the climatological longwave atmospheric circulation pattern. Recent negative magnitudes of the AO have increased geopotential thickness west of Greenland and cold weather in the central and eastern United States. Although the increased variance in the AO is statistically significant based on 9-yr running standard deviations from 1950 to 2014, one cannot necessarily robustly attribute the increase to steady changes in external sources (sea temperatures, sea ice) rather than a chaotic view of internal atmospheric variability; this is due to a relatively short record and a review of associated atmospheric dynamics. Although chaotic internal variability dominates the dynamics of atmospheric circulation, Arctic thermodynamic influence can reinforce the regional geopotential height pattern. Such reinforcement suggests a conditional or state dependence on whether an Arctic influence will impact subarctic severe weather, based on different circulation regimes. A key conclusion is the importance of recent variability over potential trends in Arctic and subarctic atmospheric circulation. Continued thermodynamic Arctic changes are suggested as a Bayesian prior leading to a probabilistic approach for potential subarctic weather linkages and the potential for improving seasonal forecasts.

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James E. Overland and Muyin Wang

Abstract

There were extensive regions of Arctic temperature extremes in January and February 2016 that continued into April. For January, the Arctic-wide averaged temperature anomaly was 2.0°C above the previous record of 3.0°C based on four reanalysis products. Midlatitude atmospheric circulation played a major role in producing such extreme temperatures. Extensive low geopotential heights at 700 hPa extended over the southeastern United States, across the Atlantic, and well into the Arctic. Low geopotential heights along the Aleutian Islands and a ridge along northwestern North America contributed southerly wind flow. These two regions of low geopotential height were seen as a major split in the tropospheric polar vortex over the Arctic. Warm air advection north of central Eurasia reinforced the ridge that split the flow near the North Pole. Winter 2015 and 2016 geopotential height fields represented an eastward shift in the longwave atmospheric circulation pattern compared to earlier in the decade (2010–13). Certainly Arctic amplification will continue, and 2016 shows that there can be major Arctic contributions from midlatitudes. Whether Arctic amplification feedbacks are accelerated by the combination of recent thinner, more mobile Arctic sea ice and occasional extreme atmospheric circulation events from midlatitudes is an interesting conjecture.

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James E. Overland, Philip Turet, and Abraham H. Oort

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The authors investigate the climmological heating of the Arctic by the atmospheric moist static energy (MSE) flux from lower latitudes based on 25 years (November 1964–1989) of the GFDL dataset. During the five month winter period (NDJFM) the transport of sensible heat by transient eddies is the largest component (50%) at 70°N, followed by the transport of sensible but by standing eddies (25%), and the moist static energy flux by the mean meridional circulation (25%). The mean meridional circulation (MMC) changes from a Ferrel cell to a thermally direct circulation near 60°N; maximum horizontal velocities in the thermally direct circulation peak new 70°N. North of 60°N the sensible heat flux by the MMC is southward and opposes the greater northward transport of geopotential energy. The transport of energy is not uniform. Major pathways are the northward transport of positive anomalies through the Greenland and Barents Seas into the eastern Arctic and the southward transport of negative anomalies to the cast of the Siberian high. The Atlantic pathway in winter relates to transport by transient eddies, while the western Siberian flux relates to the standing eddy pattern. Interannual variability of northward MSE is concentrated in these two regions. The western Arctic Ocean from about 30° to 60°W receives about 50 W m−2 less energy flux convergence than the eastern Arctic. This result compares well with the observed minimum January surface air temperatures in the Canadian Basin of the western Arctic and implies that the greater observed ice thickness in this region may have a thermodynamic as well as a dynamic origin.

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James E. Overland, Muyin Wang, and Nicholas A. Bond

Abstract

The lower troposphere of the western Arctic (eastern Siberia to northern Canada) was relatively warm during spring in the 1990s. Based on the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis, supplemented by the Television Infrared Observational Satellite (TIROS) Operational Vertical Sounder (TOVS) Polar Pathfinder dataset, this warmth is a result of a recent increase in the frequency of warm months, compared to the previous four decades. The primary difference between four notably warm springs in the 1990s and four cold springs in the 1980s was the sense of the horizontal advection term in a lower-tropospheric heat budget for northern Alaska/southern Beaufort Sea. While the horizontal advection of heat was highly episodic, it was related to changes in the mean circulation at low levels, in particular a shift from anomalous northeasterly flow in the 1980s to anomalous southwesterly flow in the 1990s during March and April. This change in the low-level winds in the western Arctic coincided with a systematic shift in the Arctic Oscillation (AO) near the end of the 1980s, and reflects the equivalent barotropic nature of the AO. The stratospheric temperature anomalies associated with the AO were greatest in March; the low-level wind anomalies brought about near-surface temperature anomalies in northern Alaska that peaked in April. In addition to substantial decadal differences, there was considerable month-to-month and year-to-year variability within the last two decades.

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Donald B. Percival, James E. Overland, and Harold O. Mofjeld

Abstract

A major difficulty in investigating the nature of interdecadal variability of climatic time series is their shortness. An approach to this problem is through comparison of models. In this paper a first-order autoregressive [AR(1)] model is contrasted with a fractionally differenced (FD) model as applied to the winter-averaged sea level pressure time series for the Aleutian low [the North Pacific (NP) index] and the Sitka winter air temperature record. Both models fit the same number of parameters. The AR(1) model is a “short-memory” model in that it has a rapidly decaying autocovariance sequence, whereas an FD model exhibits “long memory” because its autocovariance sequence decays more slowly.

Statistical tests cannot distinguish the superiority of one model over the other when fit with 100 NP or 146 Sitka data points. The FD model does equally well for short-term prediction and has potentially important implications for long-term behavior. In particular, the zero crossings of the FD model tend to be farther apart, so they have more of a “regimelike” character; a quarter century interval between zero crossings is 4 times more likely with the FD than the AR(1) model. The long-memory parameter δ for the FD model can be used as a characterization of regimelike behavior. The estimated δs for the NP index (spanning 100 yr) and the Sitka time series (168 yr) are virtually identical, and their size implies moderate long-memory behavior. Although the NP index and the Sitka series have broadband low-frequency variability and modest long-memory behavior, temporal irregularities in their zero crossings are still prevalent. Comparison of the FD and AR(1) models indicates that regimelike behavior cannot be ruled out for North Pacific processes.

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Jennifer Miletta Adams, Nicholas A. Bond, and James E. Overland

Abstract

In the Arctic atmosphere, the fall cooling cycle involves the evolution of the zonally symmetric circulation in late summer into the asymmetric flow of winter. This paper uses historical reanalysis data to document how the dominant components of the Arctic heat budget influence the summer–winter transition. The spatial variability of 20-yr climatologies of 700-mb temperature and geopotential height, the net surface flux, and the horizontal convergence of eddy sensible heat fluxes are examined for September through February.

The development of the zonal asymmetries in the temperature and geopotential height fields in the Arctic is linked to the land–water–ice distribution that regulates the surface fluxes and the baroclinic zones in the hemispheric circulation, which lead to regional heating/cooling by the transient and standing eddies. These eddies serve to transport the heat energy gained via the surface fluxes over the North Atlantic and North Pacific to the continental and ice-covered regions of the central Arctic, where the net surface flux is small. The transient eddies are especially important in the Atlantic and Eurasian sectors of the Arctic, while the standing eddies play the larger role in the heat budget on the Pacific side of the Arctic in early to mid-winter.

The Arctic oscillation (AO) has a small effect on the basinwide pattern of heating and cooling by the eddy circulations, but on smaller spatial scales there are isolated regions where the AO influences the Arctic heat budget.

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Nicholas A. Bond, James E. Overland, and Philip Turet

Abstract

The surface wind stress over the Bering Sea is estimated for the period 1946–90 from sea level pressure analyses, empirical relationships between the geostrophic wind and the surface wind, and a bulk aerodynamic formula. The focus is on the propagation and variability of the stress and the curl of the stress as a function of frequency. The stress at high frequencies (>0.1 cpd) is dominated by northward- and eastward-propagating disturbances with mean wavelengths of ∼2500 and 10 000 km, respectively. At periods of ∼10–100 days, the mean propagation is near zero; there are, however, significant interannual variations in the zonal propagation. Wind-driven ocean transports estimated by the Sverdrup method for the deep Bering basin account for ∼6 Sv or roughly one-half of the observed transport within the western boundary current along the Kamchatka peninsula. A low-pass-filtered (retaining periods greater than 18 months) time series of the Sverdrup transport exhibits a standard deviation of 25% of the mean.

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James E. Overland, Jennifer Miletta Adams, and Nicholas A. Bond

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The January–February mean central pressure of the Aleutian low is investigated as an index of North Pacific variability on interannual to decadal timescales. Since the turn of the century, 37% of the winter interannual variance of the Aleutian low is on timescales greater than 5 yr. An objective algorithm detects zero crossings of Aleutian low central pressure anomalies in 1925, 1931, 1939, 1947, 1959, 1968, 1976, and 1989. No single midtropospheric teleconnection pattern is sufficient to capture the variance of the Aleutian low. The Aleutian low covaries primarily with the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern but also with the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The change to a prominent deep Aleutian low after 1977 is seen in indices of both the PNA and AO; the return to average conditions after 1989 was also associated with a change in the AO. The authors’ analysis suggests an increasing covariability of the high- and midlatitude atmosphere after 1970.

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James E. Overland, Jennifer Miletta Adams, and Nicholas A. Bond

Abstract

The surface temperature field in the Arctic winter is primarily controlled by downward longwave radiation, which is determined by local atmospheric temperature and humidity profiles and the presence of clouds. The authors show that regional differences in the atmospheric thermal energy budget are related to the tropospheric circulation in the Arctic. Data sources include several gridded meteorological datasets and surface and rawinsonde observational data. Four independent climatologies of mean January surface temperature show consistent spatial patterns: coldest temperatures in the western Arctic north of Canada and warmer regions in the Chukchi, Greenland, and Barents Seas. Data from the five winters of 1986–90 illustrate the coupling between the surface temperature, the downward longwave radiative fields, and the tropospheric temperature and humidity fields, with monthly surface–upper-air correlations on the order of 0.6. Upper-level circulation patterns reveal features similar to the surface temperature fields, notably a persistent low center located over northern Canada; the cyclonic flow around the low is a tropospheric extension of the polar vortex. Colder and drier conditions are maintained within the vortex and communicated to the surface through radiative processes. The polar vortex also steers transient weather systems, the most important mechanism for horizontal heat transport, into the eastern Arctic, which results in as much as 25 W m−2 more heat flux into the eastern Arctic than the western Arctic. A reason for the colder temperatures in the western Arctic is that the polar vortex tends to be situated downstream of the northern Rocky Mountains; this preferred location is related to orographic forcing of planetary waves. Monthly and interannual variability of winter temperatures is conditioned by the interaction of the Arctic and midlatitude circulations through the strength and position of the polar vortex.

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Muyin Wang, James E. Overland, Vladimir Kattsov, John E. Walsh, Xiangdong Zhang, and Tatyana Pavlova

Abstract

There were two major multiyear, Arctic-wide (60°–90°N) warm anomalies (>0.7°C) in land surface air temperature (LSAT) during the twentieth century, between 1920 and 1950 and again at the end of the century after 1979. Reproducing this decadal and longer variability in coupled general circulation models (GCMs) is a critical test for understanding processes in the Arctic climate system and increasing the confidence in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) model projections. This study evaluated 63 realizations generated by 20 coupled GCMs made available for the IPCC Fourth Assessment for their twentieth-century climate in coupled models (20C3M) and corresponding control runs (PIcntrl). Warm anomalies in the Arctic during the last two decades are reproduced by all ensemble members, with considerable variability in amplitude among models. In contrast, only eight models generated warm anomaly amplitude of at least two-thirds of the observed midcentury warm event in at least one realization, but not its timing. The durations of the midcentury warm events in all the models are decadal, while that of the observed was interdecadal. The variance of the control runs in nine models was comparable with the variance in the observations. The random timing of midcentury warm anomalies in 20C3M simulations and the similar variance of the control runs in about half of the models suggest that the observed midcentury warm period is consistent with intrinsic climate variability. Five models were considered to compare somewhat favorably to Arctic observations in both matching the variance of the observed temperature record in their control runs and representing the decadal mean temperature anomaly amplitude in their 20C3M simulations. Seven additional models could be given further consideration. Results support selecting a subset of GCMs when making predictions for future climate by using performance criteria based on comparison with retrospective data.

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