National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2004

Seasonal and regional variation of pan-Arctic surface air temperature over the instrumental record

Overland, J.E., M.C. Spillane, D.B. Percival, M. Wang, and H.O. Mofjeld

J. Climate, 17(17), 3263–3282, doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(2004)017<3263:SARVOP>2 (2004)

Instrumental surface air temperature (SAT) records beginning in the late 1800s from 59 Arctic stations north of 64°N show monthly mean anomalies of several degrees and large spatial teleconnectivity, yet there are systematic seasonal and regional differences. Analyses are based on time-longitude plots of SAT anomalies and principal component analysis (PCA). Using monthly station data rather than gridded fields for this analysis highlights the importance of considering record length in calculating reliable Arctic change estimates; for example, the contrast of PCA performed on 11 stations beginning in 1886, 20 stations beginning in 1912, and 45 stations beginning in 1936 is illustrated. While often there is a well-known interdecadal negative covariability in winter between northern Europe and Baffin Bay, long-term changes in the remainder of the Arctic are most evident in spring, with cool temperature anomalies before 1920 and Arctic-wide warm temperatures in the 1990s. Summer anomalies are generally weaker than spring or winter but tend to mirror spring conditions before 1920 and in recent decades. Temperature advection in the trough-ridge structure in the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) in the North Atlantic establishes wintertime temperature anomalies in adjacent regions, while the zonal/annular nature of the AO in the remainder of the Arctic must break down in spring to promote meridional temperature advection. There were regional/decadal warm events during winter and spring in the 1930s to 1950s, but meteorological analysis suggests that these SAT anomalies are the result of intrinsic variability in regional flow patterns. These midcentury events contrast with the recent Arctic-wide AO influence in the 1990s. The preponderance of evidence supports the conclusion that warm SAT anomalies in spring for the recent decade are unique in the instrumental record, both in having the greatest longitudinal extent and in their associated patterns of warm air advection.

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