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Climate Indicators - Stratospheric Air Temperatures

Arctic Oscillation | Surface Temperatures | Stratospheric Temperatures | Clouds | Ocean

The stratosphere is the upper middle part of the atmosphere, and is the level of the Jet Stream winds. Colder temperatures in the stratosphere over the Arctic are associated with the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation, and are indicative of stronger polar winds.

The polar vortex is the pattern of winds around the North Pole, shown in the figure (right) from the Discovery Channel. Click to see a larger image.

Polar vortex is the pattern of winds around the North Pole
Polar vortex. From the Discovery Channel.

The following figures are maps showing a northern polar view of stratospheric temperature anomalies in March for different years. The extensive region of colder dark blue temperatures are indicative of stronger polar vortex winds. An anomaly is the difference from a long term average for the same time of year.

Note the change in intensity and location of this cold polar vortex from year to year. It is thought that conditions in the stratosphere may influence conditions in the rest of the atmosphere. Six of the nine years in the 1990s had colder stratospheric temps and stronger vortex winds compared to the warmer conditions in the 1980s. After that, conditions were more variable. See the YouTube animation of the stratospheric temperature anomalies in March (1981 - 2016).


1983 1984 1983 1984
1985 1986 1987 1988
1989 1990 1991 1992
1993 1994 1995 1996
1997 1998 1999 2000
2001 2002 2003 2004
2005 2006 2007 2008
2009 2010 2011 2012
2013 2014 2015 2016
Degrees centigrade
March stratospheric (200 hPa) temperature anomalies based on NCEP/NCAR reanalysis, shown from 1981 to 2016. The anomaly is the departure from its 1981-2010 averages for that month. This mean period is consistent with online NCEP/NCAR reanalysis plots. Download large images (zip file) or view the YouTube animation.

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