Articles | Volume 24, issue 4
Special issue:
Research article
04 Dec 2017
Research article |  | 04 Dec 2017

Dynamical properties and extremes of Northern Hemisphere climate fields over the past 60 years

Davide Faranda, Gabriele Messori, M. Carmen Alvarez-Castro, and Pascal Yiou

Abstract. Atmospheric dynamics are described by a set of partial differential equations yielding an infinite-dimensional phase space. However, the actual trajectories followed by the system appear to be constrained to a finite-dimensional phase space, i.e. a strange attractor. The dynamical properties of this attractor are difficult to determine due to the complex nature of atmospheric motions. A first step to simplify the problem is to focus on observables which affect – or are linked to phenomena which affect – human welfare and activities, such as sea-level pressure, 2 m temperature, and precipitation frequency. We make use of recent advances in dynamical systems theory to estimate two instantaneous dynamical properties of the above fields for the Northern Hemisphere: local dimension and persistence. We then use these metrics to characterize the seasonality of the different fields and their interplay. We further analyse the large-scale anomaly patterns corresponding to phase-space extremes – namely time steps at which the fields display extremes in their instantaneous dynamical properties. The analysis is based on the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data, over the period 1948–2013. The results show that (i) despite the high dimensionality of atmospheric dynamics, the Northern Hemisphere sea-level pressure and temperature fields can on average be described by roughly 20 degrees of freedom; (ii) the precipitation field has a higher dimensionality; and (iii) the seasonal forcing modulates the variability of the dynamical indicators and affects the occurrence of phase-space extremes. We further identify a number of robust correlations between the dynamical properties of the different variables.

Short summary
We study the dynamical properties of the Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation by analysing the sea-level pressure, 2 m temperature, and precipitation frequency field over the period 1948–2013. The metrics are linked to the predictability and the persistence of the atmospheric flows. We study the dependence on the seasonal cycle and the fields corresponding to maxima and minima of the dynamical indicators.