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Forcing of the Arctic Oscillation by Eurasian Snow Cover

  • Author(s): Allen, Robert J
  • Zender, Charles S
  • et al.
Abstract

Throughout much of the latter half of the twentieth century, the dominant mode of Northern Hemisphere (NH) extratropical wintertime circulation variability-the Arctic Oscillation (AO)-exhibited a positive trend, with decreasing high-latitude sea level pressure (SLP) and increasing midlatitude SLP. General circulation models (GCMs) show that this trend is related to several factors, including North Atlantic SSTs, greenhouse gas/ozone-induced stratospheric cooling, and warming of the Indo-Pacific warm pool. Over the last approximately two decades, however, the AO has been decreasing, with 2009/10 featuring the most negative AO since 1900. Observational and idealized modeling studies suggest that snow cover, particularly over Eurasia, may be important. An observed snow-AO mechanism also exists, involving the vertical propagation of a Rossby wave train into the stratosphere, which induces a negative AO response that couples to the troposphere. Similar to other GCMs, the authors show that transient simulations with the Community Atmosphere Model, version 3 (CAM3) yield a snow-AO relationship inconsistent with observations and dissimilar AO trends. However, Eurasian snow cover and its interannual variability are significantly underestimated. When the albedo effects of snow cover are prescribed in CAM3 (CAMPS) using satellite-based snow cover fraction data, a snow-AO relationship similar to observations develops. Furthermore, the late-twentieth-century increase in the AO, and particularly the recent decrease, is reproduced by CAM PS. The authors therefore conclude that snow cover has helped force the observed AO trends and that it may play an important role in future AO trends.

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