Climate Dynamics

, Volume 30, Issue 7–8, pp 871–885 | Cite as

Marine cold-air outbreaks in the future: an assessment of IPCC AR4 model results for the Northern Hemisphere

  • Erik W. KolstadEmail author
  • Thomas J. Bracegirdle


For many locations around the globe some of the most severe weather is associated with outbreaks of cold air over relatively warm oceans, referred to here as marine cold-air outbreaks (MCAOs). Drawing on empirical evidence, an MCAO indicator is defined here as the difference between the skin potential temperature, which over open ocean is the sea surface potential temperature, and the potential temperature at 700 hPa. Rare MCAOs are defined as the 95th percentile of this indicator. Climate model data that have been provided as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report Four (AR4) were used to assess the models’ projections for the twenty-first century and their ability to represent the observed climatology of MCAOs. The ensemble average of the models broadly captures the observed spatial distribution of the strength of MCAOs. However, there are some significant differences between the models and observations, which are mainly associated with simulated biases of the underlying sea ice, such as excessive sea-ice extent over the Barents Sea in most of the models. The future changes of the strength of MCAOs vary significantly across the Northern Hemisphere. The largest projected weakening of MCAOs is over the Labrador Sea. Over the Nordic seas the main region of strong MCAOs will move north and weaken slightly as it moves away from the warm tongue of the Gulf Stream in the Norwegian Sea. Over the Sea of Japan there is projected to be only a small weakening of MCAOs. The implications of the results for mesoscale weather systems that are associated with MCAOs, namely polar lows and arctic fronts, are discussed.


Skin Temperature Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation North Atlantic Oscillation Index Arctic Front North Atlantic Deep Water Formation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their thorough and useful comments. Erik Kolstad thanks Burghard Brümmer and Stephen Mobbs for fruitful discussions. Alan Condron is thanked for taking part in the initial planning of the paper. This is publication no. A179 from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research. We also acknowledge the modelling groups for making their simulations available for analysis, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Inter-Comparison (PCMDI) for collecting and archiving the CMIP3 model output, and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) for organizing the model data analysis activity. The WCRP CMIP3 multi-model dataset is supported by the Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bjerknes Centre for Climate ResearchBergenNorway
  2. 2.British Antarctic SurveyCambridgeUK

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