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Aaron Donohoe, Eliza Dawson, Lynn McMurdie, David S. Battisti, and Andy Rhines

Abstract

We analyze the temporal structure of the climatological seasonal cycle in surface air temperature across the globe. We find that, over large regions of Earth, the seasonal cycle of surface temperature departs from an annual harmonic: the duration of fall and spring differ by as much as 2 months. We characterize this asymmetry by the metric ASYM, defined as the phase lag of the seasonal maximum temperature relative to the summer solstice minus the phase lag of the seasonal minimum temperature relative to winter solstice. We present a global analysis of ASYM from weather station data and atmospheric reanalysis and find that ASYM is well represented in the reanalysis. ASYM generally features positive values over land and negative values over the ocean, indicating that spring has a longer duration over the land domain whereas fall has a longer duration over the ocean. However, ASYM also features more positive values over North America compared to Europe and negative values in the polar regions over ice sheets and sea ice. Understanding the root cause of the climatological ASYM will potentially further our understanding of controls on the seasonal cycle of temperature and its future/past changes. We explore several candidate mechanisms to explain the spatial structure of ASYM including 1) modification of the seasonal cycle of surface solar radiation by the seasonal evolution of cloud thickness, 2) differences in the seasonal cycle of the atmospheric boundary layer depth over ocean and over land, and 3) temperature advection by the seasonally evolving atmospheric circulation.

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