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Regional atmospheric patterns and the delayed sea-ice freeze-up in the western Arctic


The western Arctic sea ice cover has dramatically changed since the late 1970s, particularly the timing of the autumn freeze-up. While atmospheric dynamic and thermodynamic processes associated with synoptic-scale weather patterns largely impact the onset of regional ice formation, linkages between the subseasonal occurrences of these patterns, across interannual to multidecadal time scales, and the freeze-up are not well understood. This manuscript takes a synoptic climatological atmospheric pattern (AP) classification approach to evaluate the role of warm season-dominant (i.e., May-October) mean sea-level pressure (MSLP) and 1000–500 hPa thickness APs, derived from daily NCEP/NCAR reanalysis fields, on the passive microwave-derived freeze-up dates for the marginal Beaufort/Chukchi Seas and western Arctic Ocean from 1979 to 2013. Analysis of the respective classifications’ frequencies and their relationships to the freeze-up reveals that approximately one-third of freeze-up variance may be explained by early/middle warm season Beaufort Sea High surface pressure pattern frequency changes. A similar amount of freeze-up variance is explained by the occurrence of mid-warm season dominant thermal patterns, either earlier or later than their predominant season. Both results suggest that pattern changes may be associated with changing ocean–atmosphere heat exchanges affiliated with lengthened periods of melt conditions.

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The authors would like to thank Jeffrey Miller (NASA Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory/Wyle, Inc.), Stephen Howell (Environment Canada), Mary Haley (NCAR/CISL), and Cameron Lee (Kent State University, Department of Geography) for their assistance with aspects of data acquisition/processing and figure creation.

The NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data is obtained from the NOAA/ESRL Physical Science Division ( reanalysis.shtml), while the freeze-up data is acquired from the NASA Cryosphere Science Research Portal ( with updates for 2012 and 2013 supplied by Jeffrey Miller.

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Correspondence to Thomas J. Ballinger.

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Figure S1

Freeze-up dates for the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, and Western Arctic Ocean for the 1979-2013 study period (PNG 117 kb)

Figure S2

Same as Figure S1, but for melt onset dates (PNG 103 kb)

Figure S3

Full catalogue of the 15 MSLP patterns (1979-2013) (PNG 455 kb)

Figure S4

Full catalogue of the 15 1000-500 hPa thickness patterns (PNG 293 kb)

Figure S5

Time series of P11 across the warm season months for the Early, Middle, and Late periods described in Figure 3. The frequency represents the total number of days classified for each day (May-October) within each period. A 14-day centered moving average is then applied to smooth the time series across all months (PNG 88 kb)

Figure S6

Time series of T9 across the warm season months for the Early, Middle, and Late periods described in Figure 4. The frequency represents the total number of days classified for each day (May-October) within each period. A 14-day centered moving average is then applied to smooth the time series across all months (PNG 101 kb)

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Ballinger, T.J., Sheridan, S.C. Regional atmospheric patterns and the delayed sea-ice freeze-up in the western Arctic. Climatic Change 131, 229–243 (2015).

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  • Warm Season
  • Atmospheric Pattern
  • Western Arctic Ocean
  • Freeze Date
  • Thickness Pattern