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Linette N. Boisvert, Alek A. Petty, and Julienne C. Stroeve

Abstract

Atmospheric data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) were used to study an extreme warm and humid air mass transported over the Barents–Kara Seas region by an Arctic cyclone at the end of December 2015. Temperature and humidity in the region was ~10°C (>3σ above the 2003–14 mean) warmer and ~1.4 g kg−1 (>4σ above the 2003–14 mean) wetter than normal during the peak of this event. This anomalous air mass resulted in a large and positive flux of energy into the surface via the residual of the surface energy balance (SEB), compared to the weakly negative SEB from the surface to the atmosphere expected for that time of year. The magnitude of the downwelling longwave radiation during the event was unprecedented compared to all other events detected by AIRS in December/January since 2003. An approximate budget scaling suggests that this anomalous SEB could have resulted in up to 10 cm of ice melt. Thinning of the ice pack in the region was supported by remotely sensed and modeled estimates of ice thickness change. Understanding the impact of this anomalous air mass on a thinner, weakened sea ice state is imperative for understanding future sea ice–atmosphere interactions in a warming Arctic.

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Linette N. Boisvert, Melinda A. Webster, Alek A. Petty, Thorsten Markus, Richard I. Cullather, and David H. Bromwich

Abstract

Precipitation is a major component of the hydrologic cycle and plays a significant role in the sea ice mass balance in the polar regions. Over the Southern Ocean, precipitation is particularly uncertain due to the lack of direct observations in this remote and harsh environment. Here we demonstrate that precipitation estimates from eight global reanalyses produce similar spatial patterns between 2000 and 2010, although their annual means vary by about 250 mm yr−1 (or 26% of the median values) and there is little similarity in their representation of interannual variability. ERA-Interim produces the smallest and CFSR produces the largest amount of precipitation overall. Rainfall and snowfall are partitioned in five reanalyses; snowfall suffers from the same issues as the total precipitation comparison, with ERA-Interim producing about 128 mm less snowfall and JRA-55 about 103 mm more rainfall compared to the other reanalyses. When compared to CloudSat-derived snowfall, these five reanalyses indicate similar spatial patterns, but differ in their magnitude. All reanalyses indicate precipitation on nearly every day of the year, with spurious values occurring on an average of about 60 days yr−1, resulting in an accumulation of about 4.5 mm yr−1. While similarities in spatial patterns among the reanalyses suggest a convergence, the large spread in magnitudes points to issues with the background models in adequately reproducing precipitation rates, and the differences in the model physics employed. Further improvements to model physics are required to achieve confidence in precipitation rate, as well as the phase and frequency of precipitation in these products.

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Linette N. Boisvert, Melinda A. Webster, Alek A. Petty, Thorsten Markus, David H. Bromwich, and Richard I. Cullather

Abstract

Precipitation over the Arctic Ocean has a significant impact on the basin-scale freshwater and energy budgets but is one of the most poorly constrained variables in atmospheric reanalyses. Precipitation controls the snow cover on sea ice, which impedes the exchange of energy between the ocean and atmosphere, inhibiting sea ice growth. Thus, accurate precipitation amounts are needed to inform sea ice modeling, especially for the production of thickness estimates from satellite altimetry freeboard data. However, obtaining a quantitative estimate of the precipitation distribution in the Arctic is notoriously difficult because of a number of factors, including a lack of reliable, long-term in situ observations; difficulties in remote sensing over sea ice; and model biases in temperature and moisture fields and associated uncertainty of modeled cloud microphysical processes in the polar regions. Here, we compare precipitation estimates over the Arctic Ocean from eight widely used atmospheric reanalyses over the period 2000–16 (nominally the “new Arctic”). We find that the magnitude, frequency, and phase of precipitation vary drastically, although interannual variability is similar. Reanalysis-derived precipitation does not increase with time as expected; however, an increasing trend of higher fractions of liquid precipitation (rainfall) is found. When compared with drifting ice mass balance buoys, three reanalyses (ERA-Interim, MERRA, and NCEP R2) produce realistic magnitudes and temporal agreement with observed precipitation events, while two products [MERRA, version 2 (MERRA-2), and CFSR] show large, implausible magnitudes in precipitation events. All the reanalyses tend to produce overly frequent Arctic precipitation. Future work needs to be undertaken to determine the specific factors in reanalyses that contribute to these discrepancies in the new Arctic.

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