The sensitivity of the global climate system to interannual variability of he Eurasian snow cover has been investigated with numerical models. It was found that heavier than normal Eurasian snow cover in spring leads to a “poor” monsoon over Southeast Asia thereby verifying an idea over 100 years old. The poor monsoon was characterized by reduced rainfall over India and Burma, reduced wind stress over the Indian Ocean, lower than normal temperatures on the Asian land mass and in the overlying atmospheric column, reduced tropical jet, increased soil moisture, and other features associated with poor monsoons. Lighter than normal snow cover led to a “good” monsoon with atmospheric anomalies like those described above but of opposite sign. Remote responses from the snow field perturbation include readjustment of the Northern Hemispheric mass field in midlatitude, an equatorially symmetric response of the tropical geopotential height and temperature field and weak, but significant, perturbations in the surface wind stress and heat flux in the tropical Pacific.
The physics responsible for the regional response involves all elements of both the surface heat budget and heat budget of the full atmospheric column. In essence, the snow, soil and atmospheric moisture all act to keep the land and overlying atmospheric column colder than normal during a heavy snow simulation thus reducing the land–ocean temperature contrast needed to initiate the monsoon. The remote responses are driven by heating anomalies associated with both large scale air-sea interactions and precipitation events.
The model winds from the heavy snow experiment were used to drive an ocean model. The SST field in that model developed a weak El Niño in the equatorial Pacific. A coupled ocean-atmosphere model simulation perturbed only by anomalous Eurasian snow cover was also run and it developed a much stranger El Niño in the Pacific. The coupled system clearly amplified the wind stress anomaly associated with the poor monsoon. These results show the important role of an evolving (not specified) sea surface temperature in numerical experiments and the real climate system. Our general results also demonstrate the importance of land processes in global climate dynamics and their possible role as one of the factors that could trigger ENSO events.