The large‐scale hydro‐climatology of the terrestrial Arctic drainage system is examined, focusing on the period 1960 onward. Special attention is paid to the Ob, Yenisey, Lena, and Mackenzie watersheds, which provide the bulk of freshwater discharge to the Arctic Ocean. Station data are used to compile monthly gridded time series of gauge‐corrected precipitation (P). Gridded time series of precipitation minus evapotranspiration (P−ET) are calculated from the moisture flux convergence using NCEP reanalysis data. Estimates of ET are obtained as a residual. Runoff (R) is obtained from available discharge records. For long‐term water‐year means, P−ET for the Yenisey, Lena, and Mackenzie watersheds is 16–20% lower than the observed runoff. In the Ob watershed, the two values agree within 9%. Given the uncertainties in P−ET, we consider the atmospheric and surface water budgets to be reasonably closed. Compared to the other three basins, the mean runoff ratio (R/P) is lower in the Ob watershed, consistent with the high fraction of annual precipitation lost through ET. All basins exhibit summer maxima in P and minima in P−ET. Summer P−ET in the Ob watershed is negative due to high ET rates. For large domains in northern Eurasia, about 25% of July precipitation is associated with the recycling of water vapor evapotranspirated within each domain. This points to a significant effect of the land surface on the hydrologic regime. Variability in P and P−ET has generally clear associations with the regional atmospheric circulation. A strong link with the Urals trough is documented for the Ob. Relationships with indices of the Arctic Oscillation and other teleconnections are generally weak. Water‐year time series of runoff and P−ET are strongly correlated in the Lena watershed only, reflecting extensive permafrost. Cold‐season runoff has increased in the Yenisey and Lena watersheds. This is most pronounced in the Yenisey watershed, where runoff has also increased sharply in spring, decreased in summer, but has increased for the year as a whole. The mechanisms for these changes are not entirely clear. While they fundamentally relate to higher air temperatures, increased winter precipitation, and strong summer drying, we speculate links with changes in active layer thickness and thawing permafrost.


Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres


American Geophysical Union (AGU)

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



Copyright 2002 by the American Geophysical Union.


This is an article published by AGU in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres in 2002, available online: