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The contribution of changing surface thermodynamics on twentieth and twenty-first century air temperatures over Eurasian permafrost

Abstract

The high latitudes are a hotspot for past and future climate change as forced climate signals have begun to emerge from internal variability in recent decades. New tools, such as initial condition large ensembles, provide a simulated range of possible climate realities that allow for separating the externally forced and internally variable components of the climate system. In addition, interactions between environmental variables and atmospheric circulation patterns can be detected in an unforced climate scenario and removed to isolate thermodynamic influences on the climate system. In the Arctic, this separation between dynamic and thermodynamic influences can be used to examine the impact of permafrost degradation on surface air temperatures (SAT). While impacts from permafrost degradation and subsequent carbon release have been thoroughly studied, geophysical influences have not received as much attention. This study employs the Community Earth System Model’s Large Ensemble to simulate and analyze these geophysical impacts over three time periods: 1976–2005, 2021–2050, and 2071–2100. As soil is thawing earlier and freezing later, we focus on spring and autumn to determine permafrost’s thermodynamic influence on SAT across Eurasia. We find that large internal variability, primarily due to atmospheric dynamics, affects spring SATs through 2100 while variability in autumn SATs will decrease over time due to increasing thermodynamic surface factors. These thermodynamic surface influences are most prominent in areas of continuous and discontinuous permafrost and lesser in non-permafrost regions, likely the result of a changing seasonal surface energy budget resulting from degradation and loss of permafrost.

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Availability of data and material

All CESM Large Ensemble output is available on the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Performance Storage System.

Code availability

Code available upon request to the corresponding author.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the reviewers whose thoughtful comments improved our manuscript. We acknowledge the CESM Large Ensemble Community Project and the supercomputing resources provided by the National Science Foundation, the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, and those involved in the creation of the Yellowstone supercomputer on which CESM-LE simulations were completed. The authors would like to thank Laurent Terray for development of the dynamical adjustment algorithm. They would like to further acknowledge Dr. Clara Deser, Dr. Flavio Lehner, and Adam Phillips for their assistance with computing resources at NCAR, the dynamical adjustment code base, and for answering technical questions. In addition, the authors would like to thank Drs. Deser and Lehner as well as the United States CLIVAR group for organizing the Large Ensembles Workshop at NCAR in July 2019 which helped to refine ideas for this research.

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Vecellio, D.J., Frauenfeld, O.W. The contribution of changing surface thermodynamics on twentieth and twenty-first century air temperatures over Eurasian permafrost. Clim Dyn 57, 933–952 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-021-05747-3

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Keywords

  • Permafrost
  • Climate change
  • Degradation
  • Land–atmosphere interactions
  • Thermodynamics