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Reconsidering meteorological seasons in a changing climate

Abstract

Traditional definitions of seasonality are insufficient to reflect changes associated with a swiftly changing climate. Regional changes in season onset and length using surface based metrics are well documented, but hemispheric assessments using tropospheric metrics has received little attention. The long-term average of six-hourly analyses of temperature on isobaric surfaces, provided by the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project, is separated here into quartiles to determine climatologic seasonal end dates. Annual season end dates are defined as the date when the 5-day moving average rose above (winter and spring) or fell below (summer and fall) the long term mean. Climatic season end dates fall between meteorological and astronomical season end dates. The length of summer has increased by an average of 13 days and the length of winter has decreased by an average of 20 days, which are more substantial seasonal changes than previous studies. These changes in season length have occurred largely within the past 36 years, corresponding to most aggressive anthropogenic climate change. Results show that the planetary boundary layer is warming at nearly twice the rate of the free troposphere. The spatial distribution of warming suggests that topographically induced weather systems are collocated with maxima or minima in free tropospheric and boundary layer temperature slope. Furthermore, regions of greatest ensemble spread are not collocated with relative maxima or minima in free troposphere or boundary layer temperature slope. This improved assessment of seasonal transitions is useful to climatologists, agricultural land managers, and scientists interested in seasonally driven biology, hydrology and biogeochemical processes.

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Acknowledgments

Support for the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project dataset is provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (DOE INCITE) program, and Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), and by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office. Additional thanks are due to Andrew Kutta, Jonathan James, and anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback that improved the article.

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Correspondence to Evan Kutta.

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Kutta, E., Hubbart, J.A. Reconsidering meteorological seasons in a changing climate. Climatic Change 137, 511–524 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1704-3

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Keywords

  • Seasonal Transition
  • Free Troposphere
  • Ensemble Spread
  • Isobaric Surface
  • Arctic Warming