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Andrew J. Monaghan and David H. Bromwich

Antarctica is a challenging region for conducting meteorological research because of its geographic isolation, climate extremes, vastness, and lack of permanent human inhabitants. About 15 observing stations have been in continuous operation since the onset of the modern scientific era in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year in 1957/58. Identifying and attributing natural- and human-caused climate change signals from the comparatively short Antarctic dataset is confounded by large year-to-year fluctuations of temperature, atmospheric pressure, and snowfall. Yet there is increasing urgency to understand Antarctica's role in the global climate system for a number of reasons, most importantly the potential consequences of ice-mass loss on global sea level rise. Here, we describe recently-created records that allow Antarctic near-surface temperature and snowfall changes to be assessed in all of Antarctica's 24 glacial drainage systems during the past five decades. The new near-surface temperature and snowfall records roughly double the length of previous such datasets, which have complete spatial coverage over the continent. They indicate complex patterns of regional and seasonal climate variability. Of particular note is the occurrence of widespread positive temperature trends during summer since the 1990s, the season when melt occurs. In forthcoming years, careful monitoring of the summer trends will be required to determine whether they are associated with a natural cycle or the start of an anthropogenic warming trend. Key questions are raised during the International Polar Year.

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David H. Bromwich, Andrew J. Monaghan, and Zhichang Guo

Abstract

The Polar fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–NCAR Mesoscale Model (MM5) is employed to examine the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) modulation of Antarctic climate for July 1996–June 1999, which is shown to be stronger than for the mean modulation from 1979 to 1999 and appears to be largely due to an eastward shift and enhancement of convection in the tropical Pacific Ocean. This study provides a more comprehensive assessment than can be achieved with observational datasets by using a regional atmospheric model adapted for high-latitude applications (Polar MM5). The most pronounced ENSO response is observed over the Ross Ice Shelf–Marie Byrd Land and over the Weddell Sea–Ronne/Filchner Ice Shelf. In addition to having the largest climate variability associated with ENSO, these two regions exhibit anomalies of opposite sign throughout the study period, which supports and extends similar findings by other investigators. The dipole structure is observed in surface temperature, meridional winds, cloud fraction, and precipitation. The ENSO-related variability is primarily controlled by the large-scale circulation anomalies surrounding the continent, which are consistent throughout the troposphere. When comparing the El Niño/La Niña phases of this late 1990s ENSO cycle, the circulation anomalies are nearly mirror images over the entire Antarctic, indicating their significant modulation by ENSO. Large temperature anomalies, especially in autumn, are prominent over the major ice shelves. This is most likely due to their relatively low elevation with respect to the continental interior making them more sensitive to shifts in synoptic forcing offshore of Antarctica, especially during months with considerable open water. The Polar MM5 simulations are in broad agreement with observational data, and the simulated precipitation closely follows the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Tropical Ocean–Global Atmosphere precipitation trends over the study period. The collective findings of this work suggest the Polar MM5 is capturing ENSO-related atmospheric variability with good skill and may be a useful tool for future climate studies.

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David H. Bromwich, Julien P. Nicolas, and Andrew J. Monaghan

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This study evaluates the temporal variability of the Antarctic surface mass balance, approximated as precipitation minus evaporation (PE), and Southern Ocean precipitation in five global reanalyses during 1989–2009. The datasets consist of the NCEP/U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project 2 reanalysis (NCEP-2), the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) 25-year Reanalysis (JRA-25), ECMWF Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim), NASA Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Application (MERRA), and the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR). Reanalyses are known to be prone to spurious trends and inhomogeneities caused by changes in the observing system, especially in the data-sparse high southern latitudes. The period of study has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of satellite observations used for data assimilation.

The large positive and statistically significant trends in mean Antarctic PE and mean Southern Ocean precipitation in NCEP-2, JRA-25, and MERRA are found to be largely spurious. The origin of these artifacts varies between reanalyses. Notably, a precipitation jump in MERRA in the late 1990s coincides with the start of the assimilation of radiances from the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU). ERA-Interim and CFSR do not exhibit any significant trends. However, the potential impact of the assimilation of rain-affected radiances in ERA-Interim and inhomogeneities in CFSR pressure fields over Antarctica cast some doubt on the reliability of these two datasets.

The authors conclude that ERA-Interim likely offers the most realistic depiction of precipitation changes in high southern latitudes during 1989–2009. The range of the trends in Antarctic PE among the reanalyses is equivalent to 1 mm of sea level over 21 years, which highlights the improvements still needed in reanalysis simulations to better assess the contribution of Antarctica to sea level rise. Finally, this work argues for continuing cautious use of reanalysis datasets for climate change assessment.

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Leiqiu Hu, Andrew J. Monaghan, and Nathaniel A. Brunsell

Abstract

Extreme heat is a leading cause of weather-related human mortality. The urban heat island (UHI) can magnify heat exposure in metropolitan areas. This study investigates the ability of a new MODIS-retrieved near-surface air temperature and humidity dataset to depict urban heat patterns over metropolitan Chicago, Illinois, during June–August 2003–13 under clear-sky conditions. A self-organizing mapping (SOM) technique is used to cluster air temperature data into six predominant patterns. The hottest heat patterns from the SOM analysis are compared with the 11-summer median conditions using the urban heat island curve (UHIC). The UHIC shows the relationship between air temperature (and dewpoint temperature) and urban land-use fraction. It is found that during these hottest events 1) the air temperature and dewpoint temperature over the study area increase most during nighttime, by at least 4 K relative to the median conditions; 2) the urban–rural temperature/humidity gradient is decreased as a result of larger temperature and humidity increases over the areas with greater vegetation fraction than over those with greater urban fraction; and 3) heat patterns grow more rapidly leading up to the events, followed by a slower return to normal conditions afterward. This research provides an alternate way to investigate the spatiotemporal characteristics of the UHI, using a satellite remote sensing perspective on air temperature and humidity. The technique has potential to be applied to cities globally and provides a climatological perspective on extreme heat that complements the many case studies of individual events.

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Jorge F. Carrasco, David H. Bromwich, and Andrew J. Monaghan

Abstract

The mesoscale cyclone activity observed in the portion of Antarctica that faces the South Pacific Ocean and Weddell Sea area is summarized from a study of 1991. In general, area-normalized results reveal much greater mesoscale cyclonic activity over the Ross Sea/Ross Ice Shelf and southern Marie Byrd Land than on both sides of the Antarctic Peninsula. More than 50% of the observed mesoscale vortices are of the comma cloud type. The average diameter of mesoscale vortices is approximately 200 km near Terra Nova Bay, 270 km near Byrd Glacier, and 280 km near Siple Coast. Near the Antarctic Peninsula, the average diameter is about 370 km over the Bellingshausen Sea and 380 km on the Weddell Sea side. The largest percentage of deep vortices occurs over the Bellingshausen Sea sector (38% of all cases), where convective instability frequently occurs. Over the Ross Sea/Ross Ice Shelf and Weddell Sea sectors the majority of the mesoscale vortices are low cloud features that probably do not exceed the 700-hPa level due to the prevailing lower-atmospheric stability. The areas identified as sources of mesoscale vortices concur with the locations of enhanced katabatic winds.

A synthesis of the available literature leads to some general characteristics of mesoscale cyclone formation and development. Mesoscale cyclogenesis is associated with areas of warm and/or cold air advection, low-level baroclinicity, and cyclonic vorticity resulting from the stretching mechanism. Subsequent intensification depends on the presence of upper-level support. Spatial and temporal variability in mesoscale cyclone formation is often related to the behavior of synoptic-scale cyclone tracks. Mesoscale cyclones can generate precipitation and severe weather conditions and thus present a critical forecasting challenge.

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Andrew J. Monaghan, Martyn P. Clark, Michael P. Barlage, Andrew J. Newman, Lulin Xue, Jeffrey R. Arnold, and Roy M. Rasmussen

Abstract

Weather and climate variability strongly influence the people, infrastructure, and economy of Alaska. However, the sparse observational network in Alaska limits our understanding of meteorological variability, particularly of precipitation processes that influence the hydrologic cycle. Here, a new 14-yr (September 2002–August 2016) dataset for Alaska with 4-km grid spacing is described and evaluated. The dataset, generated with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model, is useful for gaining insight into meteorological and hydrologic processes, and provides a baseline against which to measure future environmental change. The WRF fields are evaluated at annual, seasonal, and daily time scales against observation-based gridded and station records of 2-m air temperature, precipitation, and snowfall. Pattern correlations between annual mean WRF and observation-based gridded fields are r = 0.89 for 2-m temperature, r = 0.75 for precipitation, r = 0.82 for snow-day fraction, r = 0.55 for first snow day of the season, and r = 0.71 for last snow day of the season. A shortcoming of the WRF dataset is that spring snowmelt occurs too early over a majority of the state, due partly to positive 2-m temperature biases in winter and spring. Strengths include an improved representation of the interannual variability of 2-m temperature and precipitation and accurately simulated (relative to regional station observations) winter and summer precipitation maxima. This initial evaluation suggests that the 4-km WRF climate dataset robustly simulates meteorological processes and recent climatic variability in Alaska. The dataset may be particularly useful for applications that require high-temporal-frequency weather fields, such as driving hydrologic or glacier models. Future studies will provide further insight on its ability to represent other aspects of Alaska’s climate.

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David H. Bromwich, Andrew J. Monaghan, Kevin W. Manning, and Jordan G. Powers

Abstract

In response to the need for improved weather prediction capabilities in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program’s field operations, the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) was implemented in October 2000. AMPS employs the Polar MM5, a version of the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–NCAR Mesoscale Model optimized for use over ice sheets. The modeling system consists of several domains ranging in horizontal resolution from 90 km covering a large part of the Southern Hemisphere to 3.3 km over the complex terrain surrounding McMurdo, the hub of U.S. operations. The performance of the 30-km AMPS domain versus observations from manned and automatic weather stations is statistically evaluated for a 2-yr period from September 2001 through August 2003. The simulated 12–36-h surface pressure and near-surface temperature at most sites have correlations of r > 0.95 and r > 0.75, respectively, and small biases. Surface wind speeds reflect the complex topography and generally have correlations between 0.5 and 0.6, and positive biases of 1–2 m s−1. In the free atmosphere, r > 0.95 (geopotential height), r > 0.9 (temperature), and r > 0.8 (wind speed) at most sites. Over the annual cycle, there is little interseasonal variation in skill. Over the length of the forecast, a gradual decrease in skill is observed from hours 0–72. One exception is the surface pressure, which improves slightly in the first few hours, due in part to the model adjusting from surface pressure biases that are caused by the initialization technique over the high, cold terrain.

The impact of the higher-resolution model domains over the McMurdo region is also evaluated. It is shown that the 3.3-km domain is more sensitive to spatial and temporal changes in the winds than the 10-km domain, which represents an overall improvement in forecast skill, especially on the windward side of the island where the Williams Field and Pegasus runways are situated, and in the lee of Ross Island, an important area of mesoscale cyclogenesis (although the correlation coefficients in these regions are still relatively low).

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Tae-Kwon Wee, Ying-Hwa Kuo, David H. Bromwich, and Andrew J. Monaghan

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In this study, the GPS radio occultation (RO) data from the Challenging Minisatellite Payload (CHAMP) and Satellite de Aplicaciones Cientificas-C (SAC-C) missions are assimilated. An updated version of the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesoscale Model (MM5) four-dimensional variational data assimilation system (4DVAR) is used to assess the impact of the GPS RO data on analyses and short-range forecasts over the Antarctic. The study was performed during the period of intense cyclonic activity in the Ross Sea, 9–19 December 2001. On average 66 GPS RO soundings were assimilated daily. For the assimilation over a single 12-h period, the impact of GPS RO data was only marginally positive or near neutral, and it varied markedly from one 12-h period to another. The large case-to-case variation was attributed to the low number of GPS RO soundings and a strong dependency of forecast impact on the location of the soundings relative to the rapidly developing cyclone. Despite the moderate general impact, noticeable reduction of temperature error in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere was found, which demonstrates the value of GPS RO data in better characterizing the tropopause. Significant error reduction was also noted in geopotential height and wind fields in the stratosphere. Those improvements indicate that early detection of the upper-level precursors for storm development is a potential benefit of GPS RO data. When the assimilation period was extended to 48 h, a considerable positive impact of GPS RO data was found. All parameters that were investigated (i.e., temperature, pressure, and specific humidity) showed the positive impact throughout the entire model atmosphere for forecasts extending up to 5 days. The impact increased in proportion to the length of the assimilation period. Although the differences in the analyses as a result of GPS RO assimilation were relatively small initially, the subtle change and subsequent nonlinear growth led to noticeable forecast improvements at longer ranges. Consequently, the positive impact of GPS RO data was more evident in longer-range (e.g., greater than 2 days) forecasts. A correlation coefficient is introduced to quantify the linear relationship between the analysis errors without GPS RO assimilation and the analysis increments induced by GPS RO assimilation. This measure shows that the growth of GPS RO–induced modifications over time is related to the prominent error reduction observed in GPS RO experiments. The measure may also be useful for understanding how cycling analysis accumulates the positive impact of GPS RO data for an extended period of assimilation.

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Andrew J. Monaghan, David H. Bromwich, Jordan G. Powers, and Kevin W. Manning

Abstract

In response to the need for improved weather prediction capabilities in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program’s Antarctic field operations, the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) was implemented in October 2000. AMPS employs a limited-area model, the Polar fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research (PSU–NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5), optimized for use over ice sheets. Twice-daily forecasts from the 3.3-km resolution domain of AMPS are joined together to study the climate of the McMurdo region from June 2002 to May 2003. Annual and seasonal distributions of wind direction and speed, 2-m temperature, mean sea level pressure, precipitation, and cloud fraction are presented. This is the first time a model adapted for polar use and with relatively high resolution is used to study the climate of the rugged McMurdo region, allowing several important climatological features to be investigated with unprecedented detail.

Orographic effects exert an important influence on the near-surface winds. Time-mean vortices occur in the lee of Ross Island, perhaps a factor in the high incidence of mesoscale cyclogenesis noted in this area. The near-surface temperature gradient is oriented northwest to southeast with the warmest temperatures in the northwest near McMurdo and the gradient being steepest in winter. The first-ever detailed precipitation maps of the region are presented. Orographic precipitation maxima occur on the southerly slopes of Ross Island and in the mountains to the southwest. The source of the moisture is primarily from the large synoptic systems passing to the northeast and east of Ross Island. A precipitation-shadow effect appears to be an important influence on the low precipitation amounts observed in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Total cloud fraction primarily depends on the amount of open water in the Ross Sea; the cloudiest region is to the northeast of Ross Island in the vicinity of the Ross Sea polynya.

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Andrew J. Monaghan, Michael Barlage, Jennifer Boehnert, Cody L. Phillips, and Olga V. Wilhelmi

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There is growing use of limited-area models (LAMs) for high-resolution (<10 km) applications, for which consistent mapping of input terrestrial and meteorological datasets is critical for accurate simulations. The geographic coordinate systems of most input datasets are based on spheroid-shaped (i.e., elliptical) Earth models, while LAMs generally assume a perfectly sphere-shaped Earth. This distinction is often neglected during preprocessing, when input data are remapped to LAM domains, leading to geolocation discrepancies that can exceed 20 km at midlatitudes.

A variety of terrestrial (topography and land use) input dataset configurations is employed to explore the impact of Earth model assumptions on a series of 1-km LAM simulations over Colorado. For the same terrestrial datasets, the ~20-km geolocation discrepancy between spheroidal-versus-spherical Earth models over the domain leads to simulated differences in near-surface and midtropospheric air temperature, humidity, and wind speed that are larger and more widespread than those due to using different topography and land use datasets altogether but not changing the Earth model. Simulated differences are caused by the shift of static fields with respect to boundary conditions, and altered Coriolis forcing and topographic gradients.

The sensitivity of high-resolution LAM simulations to Earth model assumptions emphasizes the importance for users to ensure terrestrial and meteorological input data are consistently mapped during preprocessing (i.e., datasets share a common geographic coordinate system before remapping to the LAM domain). Concurrently, the modeling community should update preprocessing systems to make sure input data are correctly mapped for all global and limited-area simulation domains.

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