Causes and impacts of Greenland atmospheric Blocking changes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Lincoln
Department Name: School of Geography


This project aims to provide a major advance in the understanding of the causes of atmospheric circulation changes (specifically changes in blocking or persistent high air pressure) over Greenland, their relation to variations in the North Atlantic atmospheric and oceanic circulation systems, their consequences for climate change and extreme weather conditions over Greenland and the wider North Atlantic/Northwest Europe/UK region, and their impacts on Greenland Ice Sheet mass loss and global sea-level rise.

High-pressure blocking in Northern Hemisphere mid-high latitudes is an important feature of the general circulation of the atmosphere that is closely linked to the jet stream and extreme weather events over densely populated mid-latitude regions. The physical causes of blocking and consequently how it responds to and influences broader-scale climate change are poorly understood, especially in terms of connecting weather (daily) and climate (year-to-year or longer) timescales. Recent research shows a significant increase in blocking over the Greenland region, mainly in summer, since around 1990. This is not well simulated by currently available global climate models. This deficiency may be linked to recent rapid Arctic sea-ice loss which is also not well captured by the climate models. However, the latest generation of climate models show some improvement compared with earlier versions, although still have some differences between modelled and observed representations of Greenland Blocking.

Our proposal addresses this model-observation mismatch by means of a comprehensive comparison using new methods, the updated observations and the latest state-of-the-art climate model simulations. We seek to understand the causes of changes in Greenland Blocking through observation-based data on a wide range of timescales from daily to decadal, analysing how changes in extreme Greenland Blocking events are linked to climatological variations and trends, and considering fundamental physical causes (heating and/or atmospheric circulation changes) of extreme Greenland Blocking events. Natural variability is an important aspect of blocking, and the recent significant trend in Greenland Blocking in summer is the time of year when changes in Atlantic-wide sea-surface temperatures - called Atlantic Multidecadal Variability - are most closely associated with melt and runoff changes from the Greenland Ice Sheet. We will therefore compare climate-model output from models with varying representations of the ocean and sea ice in order to identify possible oceanic and/or Arctic sea-ice loss influences on Greenland Blocking changes.

There would be profound implications of a continued increase in Greenland Blocking in summer over the coming decades: for example, enhancing melting and mass loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Recent results indicate a non-linear, accelerating response of the ice sheet's surface melt and runoff to rising temperatures where the latter are partly linked with the recent blocking increase in summer. Crucially, understanding how the Greenland Ice Sheet responds to future climate change, and the resulting effects on global sea-level rise, depends upon being able to better model atmospheric circulation changes over the Greenland region. Therefore, we will use our insights gained from earlier work in the project and novel climate model experiments to evaluate the likely impacts of future Greenland Blocking changes on North Atlantic and European weather and climate, and on the Greenland Ice Sheet mass balance and hence global sea-level rise. We expect that our results from this climatically crucial part of the North Atlantic will provide a major step forward for understanding the causes and impacts of Greenland Blocking and help guide development of the next generation of global climate models.


10 25 50
publication icon
Hanna E (2024) Short- and long-term variability of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment