Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Research article
07 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 07 Jan 2015

Recent summer Arctic atmospheric circulation anomalies in a historical perspective

A. Belleflamme, X. Fettweis, and M. Erpicum

Abstract. A significant increase in the summertime occurrence of a high pressure area over the Beaufort Sea, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and Greenland has been observed since the beginning of the 2000s, and particularly between 2007 and 2012. These circulation anomalies are likely partly responsible for the enhanced Greenland ice sheet melt as well as the Arctic sea ice loss observed since 2007. Therefore, it is interesting to analyse whether similar conditions might have happened since the late 19th century over the Arctic region. We have used an atmospheric circulation type classification based on daily mean sea level pressure and 500 hPa geopotential height data from five reanalysis data sets (ERA-Interim, ERA-40, NCEP/NCAR, ERA-20C, and 20CRv2) to put the recent circulation anomalies in perspective with the atmospheric circulation variability since 1871. We found that circulation conditions similar to 2007–2012 have occurred in the past, despite a higher uncertainty of the reconstructed circulation before 1940. For example, only ERA-20C shows circulation anomalies that could explain the 1920–1930 summertime Greenland warming, in contrast to 20CRv2. While the recent anomalies exceed by a factor of 2 the interannual variability of the atmospheric circulation of the Arctic region, their origin (natural variability or global warming) remains debatable.

Short summary
The 2007-2012 summertime circulation anomaly over the Arctic region (i.e. more high pressure systems over the Beaufort Sea, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and Greenland) is put in a historical perspective. While the 2007-2012 anomaly seems to be exceptional, similar circulation conditions have occurred since 1871, on the basis of five reanalyses (ERA-Interim, ERA-40, NCEP/NCAR, ERA-20C, 20CRv2). The attribution of this anomaly (natural variability or global warming) remains debatable.