Enhanced Poleward Atmospheric Moisture Transport Amplified Northern High-Latitude Wetting Trend

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Xiangdong Zhang, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK; and J. He, J. Zhang, I. Polyakov, R. Gerdes, J. Inoue, and P. Wu

Observations and greenhouse-gas-emissions-forced climate change projections have indicated a wetting trend in northern high latitudes and Arctic, evidenced by increasing Eurasian Arctic river discharges. The increase in river discharge has accelerated in the latest decade, and an unprecedented, record-high discharge occurred in 2007 along with an extreme Arctic summer sea-ice-cover loss. Studies have ascribed this increasing discharge to various factors attributable to local global-warming effects, including intensifying precipitation minus evaporation, thawing permafrost, increasing greenness, and reduced plant transpiration. However, no agreement has been reached and causal physical processes remain unclear. Here we show that enhancement of poleward atmospheric moisture transport (AMT) decisively contributes to increased Eurasian Arctic river discharges. Net AMT into the Eurasian Arctic river basins captures 98% of the gauged climatological river discharges. The trend of 2.6% net AMT increase per decade accounts well for the 1.8% per decade increase in gauged discharges, and also suggests an increase in underlying soil moisture. A radical shift of the atmospheric circulation pattern induced an unusually large AMT and warm surface in 2006-07 over Eurasia, resulting in the record high discharge. The result from this study has significant implications for better understanding Arctic climate system changes and its interplay with global climate system.