An objective climatology of the dynamical forcing of polar lows in the Nordic seas



A new objective climatology of polar lows in the Nordic (Norwegian and Barents) seas has been derived from a database of diagnostics of objectively identified cyclones spanning the period January 2000 to April 2004. There are two distinct parts to this study: the development of the objective climatology and a characterization of the dynamical forcing of the polar lows identified.

Polar lows are an intense subset of polar mesocyclones. Polar mesocyclones are distinguished from other cyclones in the database as those that occur in cold air outbreaks over the open ocean. The difference between the wet-bulb potential temperature at 700 hPa and the sea surface temperature (SST) is found to be an effective discriminator between the atmospheric conditions associated with polar lows and other cyclones in the Nordic seas. A verification study shows that the objective identification method is reliable in the Nordic seas region.

After demonstrating success at identifying polar lows using the above method, the dynamical forcing of the polar lows in the Nordic seas is characterized. Diagnostics of the ratio of mid-level vertical motion attributable to quasi-geostrophic forcing from upper and lower levels (U/L ratio) are used to determine the prevalence of a recently proposed category of extratropical cyclogenesis, type C, for which latent heat release is crucial to development. Thirty-one percent of the objectively identified polar low events (36 from 115) exceeded the U/L ratio of 4.0, previously identified as a threshold for type C cyclones. There is a contrast between polar lows to the north and south of the Nordic seas. In the southern Norwegian Sea, the population of polar low events is dominated by type C cyclones. These possess strong convection and weak low-level baroclinicity. Over the Barents and northern Norwegian seas, the well-known cyclogenesis types A and B dominate. These possess stronger low-level baroclinicity and weaker convection. Copyright © 2008 Royal Meteorological Society