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CR 22:13-26 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/cr022013

Self-organizing maps: applications to synoptic climatology

B. C. Hewitson1,*, R. G. Crane2

1Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
2Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16827, USA

ABSTRACT: Self organizing maps (SOMs) are used to locate archetypal points that describe the multi-dimensional distribution function of a gridded sea level pressure data set for the northeast United States. These points‹nodes on the SOM‹identify the primary features of the synoptic-scale circulation over the region. In effect, the nodes represent a non-linear distribution of overlapping, non-discreet, circulation types. The circulation patterns are readily visualized in a 2-dimensional array (the SOM) that places similar types adjacent to one another and very different types far apart in the SOM space. The SOM is used to describe synoptic circulation changes over time, and to relate the circulation to January station precipitation data (for State College, Pennsylvania) in the center of the domain. The paper focuses on the methodology; however, the analysis suggests that circulation systems that promote precipitation have decreased over the last 40 yr‹although January precipitation at State College has actually increased. Further analysis with the SOM indicates that this is due to a change in precipitation characteristics of the synoptic-scale circulation features, rather than to their frequency of occurrence.

KEY WORDS: Self-organizing maps · Synoptic climatology · Downscaling · Climate change · Synoptic classification

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