Intercomparison of precipitation estimates over the Arctic Ocean and its peripheral seas from reanalyses

by Linette Boisvert, Melinda Webster, Alek Petty, Thorsten Markus, David Bromwich, Richard Cullathur (2018)



Boisvert, L. N., M. A. Webster, A. A. Petty, T. Markus, D. H. Bromwich, R. I. Cullathur (2018), Intercomparison of precipitation estimates over the Arctic Ocean and its peripheral seas from reanalyses, J. Climate, 31(20), 8441–8462, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0125.1.


Precipitation over the Arctic Ocean has a significant impact on the basin-scale freshwater and energy budgets but is one of the most poorly constrained variables in atmospheric reanalyses. Precipitation controls the snow cover on sea ice, which impedes the exchange of energy between the ocean and atmosphere, inhibiting sea ice growth. Thus, accurate precipitation amounts are needed to inform sea ice modeling, especially for the production of thickness estimates from satellite altimetry freeboard data. However, obtaining a quantitative estimate of the precipitation distribution in the Arctic is notoriously difficult because of a number of factors, including a lack of reliable, long-term in situ observations; difficulties in remote sensing over sea ice; and model biases in temperature and moisture fields and associated uncertainty of modeled cloud microphysical processes in the polar regions. Here, we compare precipitation estimates over the Arctic Ocean from eight widely used atmospheric reanalyses over the period 2000-2016 (nominally the 'New Arctic'). We find that the magnitude, frequency, and phase of precipitation vary drastically, although interannual variability is similar. Reanalysis-derived precipitation does not increase with time as expected; however, an increasing trend of higher fractions of liquid precipitation (rainfall) is found. When compared with drifting ice mass balance buoys, three reanalyses (ERA-Interim, MERRA, and NCEP R2) produce realistic magnitudes and temporal agreement with observed precipitation events, while two products [MERRA, version 2 (MERRA-2), and CFSR] show large, implausible magnitudes in precipitation events. All the reanalyses tend to produce overly frequent Arctic precipitation. Future work needs to be undertaken to determine the specific factors in reanalyses that contribute to these discrepancies in the new Arctic.


    title = {Intercomparison of {Precipitation} {Estimates} over the {Arctic} {Ocean} and {Its} {Peripheral} {Seas} from {Reanalyses}},
    volume = {31},
    issn = {0894-8755},
    url = {},
    doi = {10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0125.1},
    number = {20},
    urldate = {2018-09-17},
    journal = {Journal of Climate},
    author = {Boisvert, Linette N. and Webster, Melinda A. and Petty, Alek A. and Markus, Thorsten and Bromwich, David H. and Cullather, Richard I.},
    month = aug,
    year = {2018},
    pages = {8441--8462}