The past decade has seen an exceptional number of unprecedented summer extreme weather events1,2,3,4 in northern mid-latitudes, along with record declines in both summer Arctic sea ice5,6 and snow cover on high-latitude land7. The underlying mechanisms that link the shrinking cryosphere with summer extreme weather, however, remain unclear8,9,10,11,12. Here, we combine satellite observations of early summer snow cover and summer sea-ice extent13 with atmospheric reanalysis data14 to demonstrate associations between summer weather patterns in mid-latitudes and losses of snow and sea ice. Results suggest that the atmospheric circulation responds differently to changes in the ice and snow extents, with a stronger response to sea-ice loss, even though its reduction is half as large as that for the snow cover. Atmospheric changes associated with the combined snow/ice reductions reveal widespread upper-level height increases, weaker upper-level zonal winds at high latitudes, a more amplified upper-level pattern, and a general northward shift in the jet stream. More frequent extreme summer heat events over mid-latitude continents are linked with reduced sea ice and snow through these circulation changes.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Peterson, T. C., Hoerling, M. P., Stott, P. A. & Herring, S. C. (eds) Explaining extreme events of 2012 from a climate perspective. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, S1–S74 (2013).
Coumou, D. & Rahmstorf, S. A decade of weather extremes. Nature Clim. Change 2, 491–496 (2012).
Sutton, R. T. & Dong, B. Atlantic Ocean influence on a shift in European climate in the 1990s. Nature Geosci. 5, 788–792 (2012).
Seo, K-H., Son, J-H., Lee, S-E., Tomita, T. & Park, H-S. Mechanisms of an extraordinary East Asian summer monsoon event in July 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L05704 (2012).
Comiso, J. C. Large decadal decline of the Arctic multiyear ice cover. J. Clim. 25, 1176–1193 (2012).
Stroeve, J. C. et al. The Arctic’s rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: a research synthesis. Climatic Change 110, 1005–1027 (2012).
Derksen, C. & Brown, R. Spring snow cover extent reductions in the 2008–2012 period exceeding climate model projections. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L19504 (2012).
Jaeger, E. B. & Seneviratne, S. I. Impact of soil moisture–atmosphere coupling on European climate extremes and trends in a regional climate model. Clim. Dynam. 36, 1919–1939 (2011).
Overland, J. E., Francis, J. A., Hanna, E. & Wang, M. The recent shift in early summer Arctic atmospheric circulation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L19804 (2012).
Francis, J. A. & Vavrus, S. J. Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L06801 (2012).
Matsumura, S. & Yamazaki, K. Eurasian subarctic summer climate in response to anomalous snow cover. J. Clim. 25, 1305–1317 (2012).
Tang, Q., Zhang, X., Yang, X. & Francis, J. A. Cold winter extremes in northern continents linked to Arctic sea ice loss. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014036 (2013).
Cavalieri, D. J. & Parkinson, C. L. Arctic sea ice variability and trends, 1979–2010. Cryosphere 6, 881–889 (2012).
Dee, D. P. et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).
Polyakov, I. V. et al. Observationally based assessment of polar amplification of global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 1878 (2002).
Screen, J. A., Deser, C. & Simmonds, I. Local and remote controls on observed Arctic warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10709 (2012).
Serreze, M. C. & Francis, J. A. The Arctic amplification debate. Climatic Change 76, 241–264 (2006).
Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature 464, 1334–1337 (2010).
Porter, D. F., Cassano, J. J. & Serreze, M. C. Local and large-scale atmospheric responses to reduced Arctic sea ice and ocean warming in the WRF model. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D11115 (2012).
Liu, J., Curry, J. A., Wang, H., Song, M. & Horton, R. M. Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 4074–4079 (2012).
Petoukhov, V., Rahmstorf, S., Petri, S. & Schellnhuber, H. J. Quasiresonant amplification of planetary waves and recent northern hemisphere weather extremes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 5336–5341 (2013).
Li, W., Li, L., Ting, M. & Liu, Y. Intensification of Northern Hemisphere subtropical highs in a warming climate. Nature Geosci. 5, 830–834 (2012).
Thompson, D. W. J. & Wallace, J. M. The Arctic Oscillation signature in the wintertime geopotential height and temperature fields. Geophys. Res. Lett. 25, 1297–1300 (1998).
Stroeve, J. C. et al. Sea ice response to an extreme negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation during winter 2009/2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L02502 (2011).
Ogi, M. & Wallace, J. M. The role of summer surface wind anomalies in the summer Arctic sea ice extent in 2010 and 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L09704 (2012).
Jaiser, R, Dethloff, K. & Handorf, D. Stratospheric response to Arctic sea ice retreat and associated planetary wave propagation changes. Tellus A 65, 1–11 (2013).
Li, W., Li, L., Fu, R., Deng, Y. & Wang, H. Changes to the North Atlantic subtropical high and its role in the intensification of summer rainfall variability in the southeastern United States. J. Clim. 24, 1499–1506 (2011).
Lau, W. K. M. & Kim, K-M. The 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave: teleconnection of hydrometeorological extremes. J. Hydrometeorol. 13, 392–403 (2012).
Weisberg, S. Applied Linear Regression 3rd edn (Wiley, 2005).
Eisenman, I. Geographic muting of changes in the Arctic sea ice cover. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L16501 (2010).
This work by Q.T. and X.Z. was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2012CB955403), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41171031), and Hundred Talents Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. J.A.F. was supported by NSF/ARCSS Grant No. 1304097.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Tang, Q., Zhang, X. & Francis, J. Extreme summer weather in northern mid-latitudes linked to a vanishing cryosphere. Nature Clim Change 4, 45–50 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2065
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science (2020)
Radioisotopes demonstrate changes in global atmospheric circulation possibly caused by global warming
Scientific Reports (2020)
Increased European heat waves in recent decades in response to shrinking Arctic sea ice and Eurasian snow cover
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science (2020)
Prediction of accumulated cyclone energy in tropical cyclone over the western North Pacific in autumn
Climate Dynamics (2020)
Science China Earth Sciences (2020)