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Can the Tibetan Plateau snow cover influence the interannual variations of Eurasian heat wave frequency?

Abstract

The Eurasian continent has experienced significant year-to-year variations of summer heat waves during the past decades. Several possible factors, such as ocean temperature, soil moisture, and changes in land use and greenhouse gases, have been identified in previous studies, but the mechanisms are still unclear. In this study, it is found that the Tibetan Plateau snow cover (TPSC) is closely linked to the interannual variations of summer heat waves over Eurasia. The TPSC variability explains more than 30 % of the total variances of heat wave variability in the southern Europe and northeastern Asia (SENA) region. A set of numerical experiments reveal that the reduced TPSC may induce a distinct teleconnection pattern across the Eurasian continent, with two anomalous high pressure centers in the upper troposphere over the SENA region, which may lead to a reduction of the cloud formation near the surface. The less cloud cover tends to increase the net shortwave radiation and favor a stronger surface sensible heat flux in the dry surface condition over the SENA region, resulting in a deeper, warmer and drier atmospheric boundary layer that would further inhibit the local cloud formation. Such a positive land–atmosphere feedback may dry the surface even further, heat the near-surface atmosphere and thereby intensify the local heat waves. The above dynamical processes also operate on interdecadal time scales. Given the reduction of the TPSC could become more pronounced with increasing levels of greenhouse gases in a warming climate, we infer that the TPSC may play an increasingly important role in shaping the summer heat waves over the SENA region in next decades.

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Acknowledgments

We appreciate the Global Snow Lab (Rutgers University) for providing the snow cover data (http://climate.rutgers.edu/snowcover). Zhiwei Wu is jointly supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 91437216 and 41375089), the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (Grant Nos. 2015CB453201 and 2015CB953904) and the “Qinglan” Project of Jiangsu Province. This is publication No. 0059 of the Earth System Modeling Center (ESMC).

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Wu, Z., Zhang, P., Chen, H. et al. Can the Tibetan Plateau snow cover influence the interannual variations of Eurasian heat wave frequency?. Clim Dyn 46, 3405–3417 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-015-2775-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-015-2775-y

Keywords

  • Tibetan Plateau snow cover
  • Heat waves
  • Climate change