National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2008

The recent Arctic warm period

Overland, J.E., M. Wang, and S. Salo

Tellus, 60A, 589–597, doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0870.2008.00327.x (2008)

Arctic winter, spring and autumn surface air temperature (SAT) anomalies and associated sea level pressure (SLP) fields have decidedly different spatial patterns at the beginning of the 21st century (2000–2007) compared to most of the 20th century; we suggest calling this recent interval the Arctic warm period. For example, spring melt date as measured at the North Pole Environmental Observatory (2002–2007) is 7 d earlier than the records from the Russian North Pole stations (1937–1987) and statistically different at the 0.05 level. The 20th century was dominated by the two main climate patterns, the Arctic Oscillation/Northern Annular Mode (AO/NAM) and the Pacific North American-like (PNA*) pattern. The predominately zonal winds associated with the positive phases of these patterns contribute to warm anomalies in the Arctic primarily over their respective Eastern and Western Hemisphere land areas, as in 1989–1995 and 1977–1987. In contrast, SAT in winter (DJF) and spring (MAM) for 2000–2007 show an Arctic-wide SAT anomaly of greater than +1.0°C and regional hot spots over the central Arctic of greater than +3.0°C. Unlike the AO and PNA*, anomalous geostrophic winds for 2000–2007 often tended to blow toward the central Arctic, a meridional wind circulation pattern. In spring 2000–2005, these winds were from the Bering Sea toward the North Pole, whereas in 2006–2007 they were mostly from the eastern Barents Sea. A meridional pattern was also seen in the late 1930s with anomalous winter (DJFM) SAT, at Spitzbergen, of greater than +4°C. Both periods suggest natural atmospheric advective contributions to the hot spots with regional loss of sea ice. Recent warm SAT anomalies in autumn are consistent with climate model projections in response to summer reductions in sea ice extent. The recent dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice appears to be due to a combination of a global warming signal and fortuitous phasing of intrinsic climate patterns.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |