Geography Arctic Climatology
Thomas J. Ballinger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0199


Arctic climatology involves the study of complex and dynamic land-ocean-atmosphere interactions across semipermanently frozen northern high-latitude environments. These areas, approximately confined within the polar cell (north of 60°N), comprise a vast portion of the semipermanent boreal cryosphere and are particularly sensitive to climatic fluctuations and changes at regional to global scales, phase variations in the local and remote modes of ocean-atmosphere variability, and transient weather patterns that transfer heat and moisture to and from the region. A plethora of remotely sensed and in situ data products have revealed that the Arctic region is amid a shift toward accelerated ocean-atmosphere warming, particularly visible through land and sea ice loss, which has contributed to the Arctic amplification of near-surface air temperatures (with such values two to three times higher than the mean found across the lowermost latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere). Signals of Arctic change are indicated by increased air temperatures, including extreme temperature and melt events, an invigorated hydrologic cycle, accelerated land/sea ice–albedo feedback, and upper-ocean warming. Areas of pronounced autumn and winter warming since the 1990s, such as the Barents-Kara and Baffin Bay–Davis Strait regions of the Arctic Ocean, are collocated with increased occurrence of high-pressure blocking that can effect polar jet stream behaviors. Topics relating a warming Arctic to the jet stream remain controversial, but Arctic surface-atmosphere anomalies have been physically traced to atmospheric circulation and weather patterns in lower latitudes, including extreme events with resonating impacts on ecosystems and society.

General Overviews

A comprehensive summary of Arctic climatic elements covering paleoclimate to modern timescales is provided in Serreze and Barry 2014. Topics addressed in this text include but are not limited to energy balance, atmospheric circulation, hydroclimate, and ice-ocean-atmosphere relationships, among other relevant themes to the climate of the Arctic. Cryosphere-specific treatments with numerous references to the Arctic environment are provided in Barry and Gan 2011 and Marshall 2012. Manuscripts including Walsh 2008; Jeffries, et al. 2013; and Overland, et al. 2014 provide perspectives on 20th- and 21st-century Arctic climate evolution, with emphasis on the modern satellite era from the late 1970s onward, address drivers of recent change, and provide climate model projections for the future of the Arctic environment. Annual updates on Arctic climate and cryosphere since 2006 have been provided by the Arctic Report Card, issued by the Arctic Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

  • Arctic Report Card. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Arctic Program, 2006–.

    This online resource provides an assessment of the year’s notable Arctic land, ocean, ice, and atmospheric behaviors, with comparisons against recent years and historical periods.

  • Barry, Roger G., and Thian Yew Gan. The Global Cryosphere: Past, Present and Future. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511977947

    The textbook provides a comprehensive description of the terrestrial and marine cryosphere, including historical accounts and climate forecasts for select components.

  • Jeffries, Martin O., James E. Overland, and Donald K. Perovich. “The Arctic Shifts to a New Normal.” Physics Today 66.10 (2013): 35–40.

    DOI: 10.1063/PT.3.2147

    This article discusses modern satellite-era changes within the Arctic, including warming trends, retreat of sea ice cover, increases in terrestrial biomass, and Arctic linkages with southerly latitudes. Brief impacts-related discussions at the environmental and society interface are also presented.

  • Marshall, Shawn J. The Cryosphere. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

    The text provides an introduction to cryosphere components and concisely describes their responses to ocean-atmosphere variability, climate feedbacks, and global change.

  • Overland, James E., Muyin Wang, John E. Walsh, and Julienne C. Stroeve. “Future Arctic Climate Change: Adaptation and Mitigation Time Scales.” Earth’s Future 2.2 (2014): 68–74.

    DOI: 10.1002/2013EF000162

    This work emphasizes observed Arctic changes since the 1980s due to greenhouse gas emissions and regional feedbacks. Climate model projections for adaptation (to 2040) and mitigation (2080–2100) time scales are also provided.

  • Serreze, Mark C., and Roger G. Barry. The Arctic Climate System. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139583817

    A comprehensive climatic overview of the Arctic system is provided in this text, which integrates advances in Arctic climate science since the first version was published in 2005.

  • Walsh, John E. “Climate of the Arctic Marine Environment.” Ecological Applications 18.S2 (2008): S3–S22.

    DOI: 10.1090/06-0503.1

    The article provides an overview of climate about the Arctic Ocean, with an emphasis on physical factors driving variability and change and forecasted climate impacts, given strong observed warming since roughly 1900.

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