skip to main content


Title: Antarctic Atmospheric River Climatology and Precipitation Impacts
Abstract

The Antarctic ice sheet (AIS) is sensitive to short‐term extreme meteorological events that can leave long‐term impacts on the continent's surface mass balance (SMB). We investigate the impacts of atmospheric rivers (ARs) on the AIS precipitation budget using an AR detection algorithm and a regional climate model (Modèle Atmosphérique Régional) from 1980 to 2018. While ARs and their associated extreme vapor transport are relatively rare events over Antarctic coastal regions (∼3 days per year), they have a significant impact on the precipitation climatology. ARs are responsible for at least 10% of total accumulated snowfall across East Antarctica (localized areas reaching 20%) and a majority of extreme precipitation events. Trends in AR annual frequency since 1980 are observed across parts of AIS, most notably an increasing trend in Dronning Maud Land; however, interannual variability in AR frequency is much larger. This AR behavior appears to drive a significant portion of annual snowfall trends across East Antarctica, while controlling the interannual variability of precipitation across most of the AIS. AR landfalls are most likely when the circumpolar jet is highly amplified during blocking conditions in the Southern Ocean. There is a fingerprint of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) on AR variability in West Antarctica with SAM+ (SAM−) favoring increased AR frequency in the Antarctic Peninsula (Amundsen‐Ross Sea coastline). Given the relatively large influence ARs have on precipitation across the continent, it is advantageous for future studies of moisture transport to Antarctica to consider an AR framework especially when considering future SMB changes.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1952199
NSF-PAR ID:
10362593
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Volume:
126
Issue:
8
ISSN:
2169-897X
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are efficient mechanisms for transporting atmospheric moisture from low latitudes to the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS). While AR events occur infrequently, they can lead to extreme precipitation and surface melt events on the AIS. Here we estimate the contribution of ARs to total Antarctic precipitation, by combining precipitation from atmospheric reanalyses and a polar‐specific AR detection algorithm. We show that ARs contribute substantially to Antarctic precipitation, especially in East Antarctica at elevations below 3,000 m. ARs contribute substantially to year‐to‐year variability in Antarctic precipitation. Our results highlight that ARs are an important component for understanding present and future Antarctic mass balance trends and variability.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Atmospheric rivers (ARs) that reach the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) transport anomalous moisture from lower latitudes and can impact the AIS via extreme precipitation and increased downward longwave radiation. ARs contribute significantly to the interannual variability of precipitation over the AIS and thus are likely to play a key role in understanding future changes in the surface mass balance of the AIS. Dronning Maud Land (DML) is one of four maxima in AR frequency over coastal East Antarctica, with AR precipitation explaining 77% of the interannual variability in precipitation for this region. We employ a 16‐node self‐organizing map (SOM) trained with MERRA‐2 sea‐level pressure anomalies to identify synoptic‐scale environments associated with landfalling ARs in and around DML. Node composites of atmospheric variables reveal common drivers of precipitation associated with ARs reaching DML including anomalous high‐low surface pressure couplets, anomalously high integrated water vapor, and coastal barrier jets. Using a quasi‐geostrophic framework, we find that upward vertical motion associated with the occlusion process of attendant cyclones dominates atmospheric lift in AR environments. We further identify mechanisms that explain the variability in AR precipitation intensity across nodes, such as the lift associated with the occlusion process of attendant cyclones and the spatial coincidence of ascent induced by the occlusion process and frontogenesis. The latter suggests that ARs making landfall during the mature phase of cyclogenesis result in higher precipitation intensity compared to landfalling ARs that occur during the occluded phase.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Antarctic atmospheric rivers (ARs) are driven by their synoptic environments and lead to profound and varying impacts along the coastlines and over the continent. The definition and detection of ARs over Antarctica accounts for large uncertainty in AR metrics, and consequently, impacts quantification. We find that Antarctic‐specific detection tools consistently capture the AR footprint inland over ice sheets, whereas most global detection tools do not. Large‐scale synoptic environments and associated ARs, however, are broadly consistent across detection tools. Using data from the Atmospheric River Tracking Method Intercomparison Project and global reanalyses, we quantify the uncertainty in Antarctic AR metrics and evaluate large‐scale environments in the context of decadal and interannual modes of variability. The Antarctic western hemisphere has stronger connections to both decadal and interannual modes of variability compared to East Antarctica, and the Indian Ocean Dipole’s influence on Antarctic ARs is stronger while in phase with El Nino Southern Oscillation.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract. Atmospheric rivers (ARs) transport large amounts of moisture from the mid- to high-latitudes and they are a primary driver of the most extremesnowfall events, along with surface melting, in Antarctica. In this study, we characterize the climatology and surface impacts of ARs on WestAntarctica, focusing on the Amundsen Sea Embayment and Marie Byrd Land. First, we develop a climatology of ARs in this region, using anAntarctic-specific AR detection tool combined with theModern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Reanalysis v5 (ERA5) atmospheric reanalyses. We find that while ARs are infrequent (occurring 3 % of the time), they cause intense precipitation in short periods of time and account for 11 % of the annual surface accumulation. They are driven by the coupling of a blocking high over the Antarctic Peninsula with a low-pressure system known as the Amundsen Sea Low. Next, we use observations from automatic weather stations on Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf with the firn model SNOWPACK and interferometric reflectometry (IR) to examine a case study of three ARs that made landfall in rapid succession from 2 to 8 February 2020, known as an AR family event. While accumulation dominates the surface impacts of the event on Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf (> 100 kg m−2 or millimeters water equivalent), we find small amounts of surface melt as well (< 5 kg m−2). The results presented here enable us to quantify the past impacts of ARs on West Antarctica's surface mass balance (SMB) and characterize their interannual variability and trends, enabling a better assessment of future AR-driven changes in the SMB. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Successive atmospheric river (AR) events—known as AR families—can result in prolonged and elevated hydrological impacts relative to single ARs due to the lack of recovery time between periods of precipitation. Despite the outsized societal impacts that often stem from AR families, the large-scale environments and mechanisms associated with these compound events remain poorly understood. In this work, a new reanalysis-based 39-yr catalog of 248 AR family events affecting California between 1981 and 2019 is introduced. Nearly all (94%) of the interannual variability in AR frequency is driven by AR family versus single events. Usingk-means clustering on the 500-hPa geopotential height field, six distinct clusters of large-scale patterns associated with AR families are identified. Two clusters are of particular interest due to their strong relationship with phases of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). One of these clusters is characterized by a strong ridge in the Bering Sea and Rossby wave propagation, most frequently occurs during La Niña and neutral ENSO years, and is associated with the highest cluster-average precipitation across California. The other cluster, characterized by a zonal elongation of lower geopotential heights across the Pacific basin and an extended North Pacific jet, most frequently occurs during El Niño years and is associated with lower cluster-average precipitation across California but with a longer duration. In contrast, single AR events do not show obvious clustering of spatial patterns. This difference suggests that the potential predictability of AR families may be enhanced relative to single AR events, especially on subseasonal to seasonal time scales.

     
    more » « less