Rapid climate changes in the arctic region of Svalbard: Processes, Implications and Representativeness for the broader Arctic

sandro.dahlke [ at ] awi.de


Over the last decades, the Arctic regions of the earth have warmed at a rate 2–3 times faster than the global average– a phenomenon called Arctic Amplification. A complex, non-linear interplay of physical processes and unique pecularities in the Arctic climate system is responsible for this, but the relative role of individual processes remains to be debated. This thesis focuses on the climate change and related processes on Svalbard, an archipelago in the North Atlantic sector of the Arctic, which is shown to be a "hotspot" for the amplified recent warming during winter. In this highly dynamical region, both oceanic and atmospheric large-scale transports of heat and moisture interfere with spatially inhomogenous surface conditions, and the corresponding energy exchange strongly shapes the atmospheric boundary layer. In the first part, Pan-Svalbard gradients in the surface air temperature (SAT) and sea ice extent (SIE) in the fjords are quantified and characterized. This analysis is based on observational data from meteorological stations, operational sea ice charts, and hydrographic observations from the adjacent ocean, which cover the 1980–2016 period. It is revealed that typical estimates of SIE during late winter range from 40–50% (80–90%) in the western (eastern) parts of Svalbard. However, strong SAT warming during winter of the order of 2–3K per decade dictates excessive ice loss, leaving fjords in the western parts essentially ice-free in recent winters. It is further demostrated that warm water currents on the west coast of Svalbard, as well as meridional winds contribute to regional differences in the SIE evolution. In particular, the proximity to warm water masses of the West Spitsbergen Current can explain 20–37% of SIE variability in fjords on west Svalbard, while meridional winds and associated ice drift may regionally explain 20–50% of SIE variability in the north and northeast. Strong SAT warming has overruled these impacts in recent years, though. In the next part of the analysis, the contribution of large-scale atmospheric circulation changes to the Svalbard temperature development over the last 20 years is investigated. A study employing kinematic air-back trajectories for Ny-Ålesund reveals a shift in the source regions of lower-troposheric air over time for both the winter and the summer season. In winter, air in the recent decade is more often of lower-latitude Atlantic origin, and less frequent of Arctic origin. This affects heat- and moisture advection towards Svalbard, potentially manipulating clouds and longwave downward radiation in that region. A closer investigation indicates that this shift during winter is associated with a strengthened Ural blocking high and Icelandic low, and contributes about 25% to the observed winter warming on Svalbard over the last 20 years. Conversely, circulation changes during summer include a strengthened Greenland blocking high which leads to more frequent cold air advection from the central Arctic towards Svalbard, and less frequent air mass origins in the lower latitudes of the North Atlantic. Hence, circulation changes during winter are shown to have an amplifying effect on the recent warming on Svalbard, while summer circulation changes tend to mask warming. An observational case study using upper air soundings from the AWIPEV research station in Ny-Ålesund during May–June 2017 underlines that such circulation changes during summer are associated with tropospheric anomalies in temperature, humidity and boundary layer height. In the last part of the analysis, the regional representativeness of the above described changes around Svalbard for the broader Arctic is investigated. Therefore, the terms in the diagnostic temperature equation in the Arctic-wide lower troposphere are examined for the Era-Interim atmospheric reanalysis product. Significant positive trends in diabatic heating rates, consistent with latent heat transfer to the atmosphere over regions of increasing ice melt, are found for all seasons over the Barents/Kara Seas, and in individual months in the vicinity of Svalbard. The above introduced warm (cold) advection trends during winter (summer) on Svalbard are successfully reproduced. Regarding winter, they are regionally confined to the Barents Sea and Fram Strait, between 70�–80�N, resembling a unique feature in the whole Arctic. Summer cold advection trends are confined to the area between eastern Greenland and Franz Josef Land, enclosing Svalbard.

Item Type
Thesis (PhD)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Research Networks
Peer revision
Not peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.25932/publishup-44554

Cite as
Dahlke, S. (2020): Rapid climate changes in the arctic region of Svalbard: Processes, Implications and Representativeness for the broader Arctic , PhD thesis, Universität Potsdam. doi: 10.25932/publishup-44554



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