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Enhanced poleward moisture transport and amplified northern high-latitude wetting trend


Observations and climate change projections forced by greenhouse gas emissions have indicated a wetting trend in northern high latitudes, evidenced by increasing Eurasian Arctic river discharges1,2,3. The increase in river discharge has accelerated in the latest decade and an unprecedented, record high discharge occurred in 2007 along with an extreme loss of Arctic summer sea-ice cover4,5,6. Studies have ascribed this increasing discharge to various factors attributable to local global warming effects, including intensifying precipitation minus evaporation, thawing permafrost, increasing greenness and reduced plant transpiration7,8,9,10,11. However, no agreement has been reached and causal physical processes remain unclear. Here we show that enhancement of poleward atmospheric moisture transport (AMT) decisively contributes to increased Eurasian Arctic river discharges. Net AMT into the Eurasian Arctic river basins captures 98% of the gauged climatological river discharges. The trend of 2.6% net AMT increase per decade accounts well for the 1.8% per decade increase in gauged discharges and also suggests an increase in underlying soil moisture. A radical shift of the atmospheric circulation pattern induced an unusually large AMT and warm surface in 2006–2007 over Eurasia, resulting in the record high discharge.

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Figure 1: Climatological annual net AMT and river discharges.
Figure 2: Year-by-year annual net AMT and river discharge.
Figure 3: ARP-based composite analysis of sea-level pressure, SAT and AMT.

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We are grateful to J. E. Walsh for comments that have improved the content and presentation of this paper. We also thank C. Stephenson for his assistance in preparing Fig. 1. The NOAA-ESRL Physical Sciences Division made the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data available online. The Arctic Region Supercomputing Center supplied computational resources. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the Joint DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme.

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X.Z. designed the research, analysed data, wrote the paper and participated in computation and figure plotting. J.H. conducted computation and figure plotting. J.Z. participated in computation and figure plotting. J.H., J.Z., I.P., R.G., J.I. and P.W. contributed to data analysis and paper writing.

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Correspondence to Xiangdong Zhang.

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Zhang, X., He, J., Zhang, J. et al. Enhanced poleward moisture transport and amplified northern high-latitude wetting trend. Nature Clim Change 3, 47–51 (2013).

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