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Oliver Krueger, Frederik Schenk, Frauke Feser, and Ralf Weisse

Abstract

Global atmospheric reanalyses have become a common tool for both validation of climate models and diagnostic studies, such as assessing climate variability and long-term trends. Presently, the Twentieth Century Reanalysis (20CR), which assimilates only surface pressure reports, sea ice, and sea surface temperature distributions, represents the longest global reanalysis dataset available covering the period from 1871 to the present. Currently the 20CR dataset is extensively used for the assessment of climate variability and trends. Here, the authors compare the variability and long-term trends in northeast Atlantic storminess derived from 20CR and from observations. A well-established storm index derived from pressure observations over a relatively densely monitored marine area is used. It is found that both variability and long-term trends derived from 20CR and from observations are inconsistent. In particular, both time series show opposing trends during the first half of the twentieth century: both storm indices share a similar behavior only for the more recent periods. While the variability and long-term trend derived from the observations are supported by a number of independent data and analyses, the behavior shown by 20CR is quite different, indicating substantial inhomogeneities in the reanalysis, most likely caused by the increasing number of observations assimilated into 20CR over time. The latter makes 20CR likely unsuitable for the identification of trends in storminess in the earlier part of the record, at least over the northeast Atlantic. The results imply and reconfirm previous findings that care is needed in general when global reanalyses are used to assess long-term changes.

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Sönke Dangendorf, Sylvin Müller-Navarra, Jürgen Jensen, Frederik Schenk, Thomas Wahl, and Ralf Weisse

Abstract

The detection of potential long-term changes in historical storm statistics and storm surges plays a vitally important role for protecting coastal communities. In the absence of long homogeneous wind records, the authors present a novel, independent, and homogeneous storm surge record based on water level observations in the North Sea since 1843. Storm surges are characterized by considerable interannual-to-decadal variability linked to large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns. Time periods of increased storm surge levels prevailed in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries without any evidence for significant long-term trends. This contradicts with recent findings based on reanalysis data, which suggest increasing storminess in the region since the late nineteenth century. The authors compare the wind and pressure fields from the Twentieth-Century Reanalysis (20CRv2) with the storm surge record by applying state-of-the-art empirical wind surge formulas. The comparison reveals that the reanalysis is a valuable tool that leads to good results over the past 100 yr; previously the statistical relationship fails, leaving significantly lower values in the upper percentiles of the predicted surge time series. These low values lead to significant upward trends over the entire investigation period, which are in turn supported by neither the storm surge record nor an independent circulation index based on homogeneous pressure readings. The authors therefore suggest that these differences are related to higher uncertainties in the earlier years of the 20CRv2 over the North Sea region.

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