Scientists analyze 100 years of Fairbanks weather data

October 4, 2010


Fairbanks is the only place in Interior Alaska with more than a century of good weather records. Gerd Wendler and Martha Shulski combed through the numbers for Fairbanks and wrote a paper, "A Century of Climate Change for Fairbanks, Alaska," that appeared in a recent issue of the journal Arctic. 


Wendler is the director of the Geophysical Institute’s Alaska Climate Research Center. Shulski, a former ACRC climatologist, is now with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Along with a multitude of other climate data, they two scientists wrote of these Fairbanks facts:


* From 1906 to 2006, Fairbanks' mean annual temperature rose from minus 3.6 degrees Celsius to minus 2.2 degrees Celsius, an increase of 1.4 degrees. This temperature increase is interesting to climatologists since there was but a 0.8 degrees Celsius increase to worldwide temperatures during the same 100-year period. 


* Winter, spring and summer data showed a temperature increase, while sautumn showed a slight temperature decrease for the 100-year period.


* The frequency of frigid temperatures like minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit have decreased dramatically, while the frequency of very warm days (warmer than 26.7 degrees Celsius or 80 degrees Fahrenheit) has increased slightly.


*The length of the growing season has increased by 45 percent.


* Precipitation decreased by 11 percent since 1916.


While the overall (temperature) trend is positive, as expected from increasing greenhouse gases, the temperature increase is non-linear, with multi-decadal variations. Auto-correlation analyses showed a weak, non-significant cycle of 11 years (sunspot cycle). Furthermore, there was a sudden temperature increase observed in 1976, which could be related to circulation patterns as expressed in the (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) index, wrote Wendler and Shulski in their paper’s conclusion.