Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall

Edited by Mark H. Thiemens, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, and approved January 17, 2012 (received for review September 9, 2011)
February 27, 2012
109 (11) 4074-4079

Abstract

While the Arctic region has been warming strongly in recent decades, anomalously large snowfall in recent winters has affected large parts of North America, Europe, and east Asia. Here we demonstrate that the decrease in autumn Arctic sea ice area is linked to changes in the winter Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation that have some resemblance to the negative phase of the winter Arctic oscillation. However, the atmospheric circulation change linked to the reduction of sea ice shows much broader meridional meanders in midlatitudes and clearly different interannual variability than the classical Arctic oscillation. This circulation change results in more frequent episodes of blocking patterns that lead to increased cold surges over large parts of northern continents. Moreover, the increase in atmospheric water vapor content in the Arctic region during late autumn and winter driven locally by the reduction of sea ice provides enhanced moisture sources, supporting increased heavy snowfall in Europe during early winter and the northeastern and midwestern United States during winter. We conclude that the recent decline of Arctic sea ice has played a critical role in recent cold and snowy winters.

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Acknowledgments.

This research is supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Energy and Water Cycle Study, National Science Foundation Polar Programs (0838920), 973 program (2011CB309704, 2009CB421406), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41176169).

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Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 109 | No. 11
March 13, 2012
PubMed: 22371563

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Submission history

Published online: February 27, 2012
Published in issue: March 13, 2012

Acknowledgments

This research is supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Energy and Water Cycle Study, National Science Foundation Polar Programs (0838920), 973 program (2011CB309704, 2009CB421406), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41176169).

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

Authors

Affiliations

School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332;
LASG, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100029, China; and
Judith A. Curry
School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332;
Huijun Wang
LASG, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100029, China; and
Mirong Song
LASG, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100029, China; and
Radley M. Horton
Columbia University Center for Climate Systems Research, New York, NY, 10025

Notes

1
To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected].
Author contributions: J.L., J.A.C., and H.W. designed research; J.L. and M.S. performed research; J.L. and M.S. analyzed data; and J.L., J.A.C., and R.M.H. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 109
    • No. 11
    • pp. 4023-4335

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