Characteristics of cold-air outbreak events and associated polar mesoscale cyclogenesis over the north Atlantic region

Annick Terpstra, Ian A. Renfrew, Denis E. Sergeev

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23 Citations (Scopus)
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Equatorward excursions of cold polar air masses into ice-free regions, so-called cold-air outbreak (CAO) events, are frequently accompanied by the development of severe mesoscale weather features. Focusing on two key regions, the Labrador Sea and the Greenland–Norwegian Seas, we apply objective detection for both CAO events and polar mesoscale cyclones to outline the temporal evolution of CAO events and quantify associated mesoscale cyclogenesis. We introduce a novel metric, the CAO depth, which incorporates both the static stability and the temperature of the air mass. The large-scale atmospheric conditions during the onset of CAO events comprise a very cold upper-level trough over the CAO region and a surface cyclone downstream. As the CAO matures, the cold air mass extends southeastward, accompanied by lower static stability and enhanced surface fluxes. Despite the nearly 20° difference in latitude, CAO events over both regions exhibit similar evolution and characteristics including surface fluxes and thermodynamic structure. About two-thirds of the identified CAO events are accompanied by polar mesoscale cyclogenesis, with the majority of mesoscale cyclones originating inside the cold air masses. Neither the duration nor the maturity of the CAO event seems relevant for mesoscale cyclogenesis. Mesoscale cyclogenesis conditions during CAO events over the Labrador Sea are warmer, moister and exhibit stronger surface latent heat fluxes than their Norwegian Sea counterparts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4567–4584
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number11
Early online date23 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • Cold air surges
  • Cyclogenesis/cyclolysis
  • Extreme events
  • Mesocyclones
  • Polar lows

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