• Global and local contributors to the historical and projected regional climate change on the North Slope of Alaska

      Cai, Lei; Alexeev, Vladimir A.; Arp, Christopher D.; Bhatt, Uma S.; Liljedahl, Anna K. (2018-05)
      This thesis includes four studies that explore and compare the impacts of four contributing factors resulting in regional climate change on the North Slope of Alaska based on a numerical simulation approach. These four contributing factors include global warming due to changes in radiative forcing, sea ice decline, earlier Arctic lake ice-off, and atmospheric circulation change over the Arctic. A set of dynamically downscaled regional climate products has been developed for the North Slope of Alaska over the period from 1950 up to 2100. A fine grid spacing (10 km) is employed to develop products that resolve detailed mesoscale features in the temperature and precipitation fields on the North Slope of Alaska. Processes resolved include the effects of topography on regional climate and extreme precipitation events. The Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 scenario projects lower rates of precipitation and temperature increase than RCP8.5 compared to the historical product. The increases of precipitation and temperature trends in the RCP8.5 projection are higher in fall and winter compared to the historical product and the RCP4.5 projection. The impacts of sea ice decline are addressed by conducting sensitivity experiments employing both an atmospheric model and a permafrost model. The sea ice decline impacts are most pronounced in late fall and early winter. The near surface atmospheric warming in late spring and early summer due to sea ice decline are projected to be stronger in the 21st century. Such a warming effect also reduces the total cloud cover on the North Slope of Alaska in summer by destabilizing the atmospheric boundary layer. The sea ice decline warms the atmosphere and the permafrost on the North Slope of Alaska less strongly than the global warming does, while it primarily results in higher seasonal variability of the positive temperature trend that is bigger in late fall and early winter than in other seasons. The ongoing and projected earlier melt of the Arctic lake ice also contributes to regional climate change on the Northern coast of Alaska, though only on a local and seasonal scale. Heat and moisture released from the opened lake surface primarily propagate downwind of the lakes. The impacts of the earlier lake ice-off on both the atmosphere and the permafrost underneath are comparable to those of the sea ice decline in late spring and early summer, while they are roughly six times weaker than those of sea ice decline in late fall and early winter. The permafrost warming resulted from the earlier lake ice-off is speculated to be stronger with more snowfall expected in the 21st century, while the overall atmospheric warming of global origin is speculated to continue growing. Two major Arctic summer-time climatic variability patterns, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and the Arctic Dipole (AD), are evaluated in 12 global climate models in Coupled Model Intercomparison Program Phase 5 (CMIP5). A combined metric ranking approach ranks the models by the Pattern Correlation Coefficients (PCCs) and explained variances calculated from the model-produced summer AO and AD over the historical period. Higher-ranked models more consistently project a positive trend of the summer AO index and a negative trend of summer AD index in their RCP8.5 projections. Such long-term trends of large-scale climate patterns will inhibit the increase in air temperature while favoring the increase in precipitation on the North Slope of Alaska. In summary, this thesis bridges the gaps by quantifying the relative importance of multiple contributing factors to the regional climate change on the North Slope of Alaska. Global warming is the leading contributing factor, while other factors primarily contribute to the spatial and temporal asymmetries of the regional climate change. The results of this thesis lead to a better understanding of the physical mechanisms behind the climatic impacts to the hydrological and ecological changes of the North Slope of Alaska that have been become more severe and more frequent. They, together with the developed downscaling data products, serve as the climatic background information in such fields of study.