26 Aug 2021

26 Aug 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

Moisture origin, transport pathways, and driving processes of intense wintertime moisture transport into the Arctic

Lukas Papritz, David Hauswirth, and Katharina Hartmuth Lukas Papritz et al.
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Poleward moisture transport occurs in episodic, high-amplitude events with strong impacts on the Arctic and its climate system components such as sea ice. This study focuses on the origin of such events and examines the moisture sources, moisture transport pathways, and their linkage to the large-scale circulation. For that purpose, 597 events of intense zonal mean poleward moisture transport at 70° N (exceeding the 90th anomaly percentile) are identified and kinematic backward trajectories from 70° N are computed to pinpoint the moisture sources and characterize the air-streams accomplishing the transport.

The bulk of the moisture transported into the polar cap during these events originates in the eastern North Atlantic with an uptake maximum poleward of 50° N. This asymmetry between ocean basins is a direct consequence of the fact that most of the moisture transport into the polar cap occurs in this sector. As a result of the fairly high-latitude origin of the moisture, the median time moisture spends in the atmosphere prior to reaching 70° N amounts to about 2.5 days. Trajectories further reveal an inverse relationship between moisture uptake latitude and the level at which moisture is injected into the polar cap, consistent with ascent of poleward flowing air in a baroclinic atmosphere. Focusing on events for which 75 % of the zonal mean moisture transport takes place in the North Atlantic east of Greenland (424 events) reveals that lower tropospheric moisture transport results predominantly from two types of air-streams: (i) cold, polar air advected from the Canadian Arctic over the North Atlantic and around Greenland, whereby the air is warmed and moistened by surface fluxes, and (ii) air subsiding from the mid-troposphere into the boundary layer. Both air-streams contribute about 36 % each to the total transport. The former dominates the moisture transport during events associated with an anomalously high frequency of cyclones east of Greenland (218 events), whereas the latter is more important in the presence of atmospheric blocking over Scandinavia and the Ural (145 events). A substantial portion of the moisture sources associated with both types of air-streams are located between Iceland, the British Isles, and Norway. Long-range moisture transport, accounting for 17 % of the total transport, is the dominant type of air-stream during events with weak forcing by baroclinic weather systems (64 events). Finally, mid-tropospheric moisture transport is invariably associated with (diabatically) ascending air and moisture origin in the central and western North Atlantic, including the Gulf Stream front, accounting for roughly 10 % of the total transport.

In summary, our study reveals that moisture injections into the polar atmosphere are not primarily caused by the poleward transport of warm and humid air from low latitudes – a conclusion that applies in particular to cases where the transport is driven by baroclinic weather systems such as extratropical cyclones. Instead, it results from a combination of air-streams with pre-dominantly high-latitude or high-altitude origin and their interplay with large-scale weather systems (e.g., cyclones, blocks).

Lukas Papritz et al.

Status: open (until 07 Oct 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on wcd-2021-57', Anonymous Referee #1, 14 Sep 2021 reply

Lukas Papritz et al.

Lukas Papritz et al.


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Short summary
Water vapour profoundly impacts the Arctic, for example by contributing to sea ice melt. A substantial portion of water vapour in the Arctic originates at mid-latitudes and is transported poleward in a few episodic and intense events. This transport is accomplished by low and high-pressure systems occurring in specific regions or following particular tracks. Here, we explore how the type of weather system impacts where the water vapour is coming from and how it is transported poleward.