Int. J. Climatol. (2014)
Published online in Wiley Online Library
( DOI: 10.1002/joc.3971
Satellite observations of land surface temperature patterns
induced by synoptic circulation
Itamar M. Lensky
and Uri Dayan
Department of Geography and Environment, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel
Department of Geography, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
ABSTRACT: Land surface temperature (LST) controls physical, chemical and biological processes on earth, and is used for
assessing climatic changes. The seasonal and diurnal cycles, cloud cover, surface properties and atmospheric processes at
several scales govern the LST, leading to its high spatial and temporal variability. In this study, a frst attempt to assess the
contribution of the synoptic scale circulation on LSTis carried over using 2000–2012 MODIS data over the East Mediterranean
(EM). This is demonstrated for 6 out of 19 synoptic circulation patterns characterizing the EM in the winter, summer and
spring. Mean LST data calculated for each synoptic category (LST
) showed mainly the seasonality, i.e. climatological
signal (LST
). In order to remove the seasonality, we used the LST anomaly (LST
), which ‘cleaned’ also
the effects of vegetation and mineralogy, revealing the effects of circulation. Surface air temperature anomalies (at 995 sigma
level) retrieved from NCEP/NCAR reanalysis calculated for the same synoptic categories were consistent with those of LST.
This confrms the ability of remote sensing to detect the effect of the synoptic scale circulation on the spatial distribution
of LST.
KEY WORDS land surface temperature; air temperature; MODIS; remote sensing; synoptic classifcation; temperature anomaly;
East Mediterranean
Received 12 June 2013; Revised 7 January 2014; Accepted 5 February 2014
1. Introduction
Air surface temperature controls physical, chemical and
biological processes, and serves for assessing climatic
changes (Hansen et al., 1999, 2001). This parameter is rou-
tinely measured by surface meteorological stations world-
wide, mainly over populated areas. However, scientists
trying to understand the impacts of climate change do not
have suffcient station data to explore the drivers of this
change (Smith et al., 2011).
Satellite data, available for the past few decades at high
spatial resolution, enhances our ability to estimate near
surface air temperature. However, the derivation of near
surface air temperature from land surface temperature
(LST) measured by satellites is not straightforward (Kloog
et al., 2012). Jin and Dickinson (2010) pointed at the
difference between surface air temperature and LST, as the
reason for the limited use of LST.
LST is derived from LW radiation emitted from the sur-
face and lower atmosphere. It was identifed as a good
indicator of the energy balance at the Earth’s surface con-
trolling the physics of land-surface processes taking into
account the energy fuxes between the atmosphere and
the ground (Sellers et al., 1988). In order to assess local
changes in temperature due to different processes such
* Correspondence to: I. M. Lensky, Department of Geography and Envi-
ronment, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan 52900, Israel. E-mail: itamar.
as global climate change or local increase of temperature
resulting from stressed vegetation, it is crucial to under-
stand the expected temperature and its drivers. LST is
controlled by several factors, such as the seasonal and
diurnal cycles as well as cloud cover, surface properties
(e.g. topography, mineralogy and land cover), and atmo-
spheric processes at several scales (Levy et al., 2010), i.e.
local (Lensky and Dayan, 2011), meso and synoptic scale.
Lensky and Dayan (2012) used the duration of deviation
of LST from the climatological values attributed to ground
cooling by onshore fow to differ between synoptic scale
cold advection, and short-term sea breeze cooling. Here
we will analyse the effects of synoptic scale circulation
on LST.
Synoptic climatology deals with changes in the sur-
face environment induced by the atmospheric circulation
(Yarnal, 1993). The relationship between synoptic circula-
tion and temperature patterns was studied for example in
Alaska (Shulski et al., 2010; Cassano et al., 2011) and over
the Eastern Mediterranean (Ziv et al., 2004). Cassano et al.
(2011) pointed on the important role of quasi-permanent
synoptic systems on the shaping of surface temperature
The aim of this article is to show the effects of the
synoptic scale fow patterns on the spatial distribution of
LST. This is possible only after eliminating the effects of
all other factors controlling LST. The high spatial reso-
lution of satellite-based LST (1 km) enables to examine
the effects of the synoptic circulation on the local scale.
© 2014 Royal Meteorological Society
(a) (b) (c)
Figure 1. (a) LST from 10 October 2000; (b) Climatological LST for the same date; (c) The anomaly, which is the difference between (a) and (b).
232 56 184 674 163 35
(a) (b) (c) (d) (e) (f)
Apr Jul Oct Jan Apr Jul Oct Jan Apr Jul Oct Jan
Apr Jul Oct Jan Apr Jul Oct Jan Apr Jul Oct
Figure 2. Seasonal distribution of the six chosen synoptic categories for 2000–2012. Winter: (a) ‘Shallow low to the east’, (b) ‘Deep low to the east’
and (c) ‘High to the east’. Summer: (d) ‘Weak Persian trough’, and (e) ‘Deep Persian trough’. Spring: (f) ‘Sharav cyclone’. Total number of events
for each synoptic category is presented.
This is demonstrated over the East Mediterranean (EM), a
region including a wide variety of climatic regimes, e.g.
Mediterranean coastal, subtropical continental, arid and
mountainous climates. We quantify the effect of the synop-
tic scale circulation on LST along six synoptic categories
for 2000–2012.
2. Data and methodology
Synoptic climatology relies on the assumption that each
circulation pattern represents typical dynamic and thermo-
dynamic processes as refected by sea level pressure (SLP)
and surface wind patterns (Barry and Perry, 1973). In order
to understand the relationship between these circulation
patterns and regional environmental parameters such as
LST, we adopted the ‘circulation to environment’ approach
(Yarnal, 1993), in which the circulation patterns were inde-
pendently classifed and related to LST later.
2.1. Meteorological data
SLP, surface air temperature (T
) and wind vector
− →
) – both at 995 sigma level equivalent to about
140 m a.g.l – and Omega (cms
) representing the ver-
tical motion at a mid-tropospheric level (700 hPa), all at
12 UTC were retrieved from NCEP/NCAR reanalysis for
2000–2012 (Kalnay et al., 1996; Kistler et al., 2001).
The processes that govern the spatio-temporal variations
on the lower tropospheric and LST felds over the EM
are horizontal temperature advection, vertical motion, dia-
batic heating and surface conditions. Temperature advec-
tion (ADV) is the product of the horizontal temperature
gradient and the wind vector:
ADV = ∇T
− →
2.2. Synoptic classifcation
Circulation pattern classifcation provides a powerful
method to study the climate of a region by stratifying
large volumes of meteorological data into a small number
of categories on a physically meaningful basis. Such an
approach provides important information on the synoptic
drivers that control the local climate, which may be hidden
by monthly or seasonal means of these felds (Barry and
Perry, 2001; Hanson et al., 2004).
We adopted Dayan et al.’s (2011) classifcation of syn-
optic circulation patterns (Table 1 in Dayan et al., 2011)
which showed that this subjective classifcation is con-
sistent with a semi objective classifcation for this region
(Alpert et al., 2004). The classifcation was extended to
cover the period of 1995–2012 (see Appendix S1). These
classifcation studies represent spatial distribution of circu-
lation systems over the whole EM basin, though the direc-
tions (e.g. east, west) in the names of the different synoptic
categories refer to Israel.
2.3. Land surface temperature
Daily LST product from Moderate Resolution Imag-
ing Spectrometer (MODIS; MOD11A1) on Terra, sun
synchronous NASA polar orbiting satellite was used for
2000–2012. MOD11A1 provides daily full Earth cover-
age, good resolution (1 km), making it widely used for
studies of LSTs (Wenbin et al., 2013; Duan et al., 2014;
© 2014 Royal Meteorological Society Int. J. Climatol. (2014)
(a) (b) (c)
(d) (e) (f)
Figure 3. SLP of the six synoptic categories shown in Figure 2. The boxes indicate the domain of the satellite data. The arrows indicate the criteria
deferring between the ‘Shallow’ (Figure 2(d)) and ‘Deep’ (Figure 2(e)) modes of the ‘Persian trough’.
As we are interested in regional temperature patterns
driven by atmospheric circulation, daytime LST was
picked to avoid local-scale decoupling of the surface layer
from the lower tropospheric layers characterizing stable
atmosphere at nighttime.
We used TERRALST data since it has a longer and more
continuous record (March 2000–present) as compared to
AQUA (July 2002–present), whereas the 3 h difference
between TERRAand AQUAorbits is small with respect to
the typical duration of synoptic scale circulation systems
(1–3 days).
Figure 1(a) shows an example of LST pattern from 10
October 2000. The climatological LST (LST
) is the
2000–2012 mean LST for the same Julian day, i.e. day
of year ranging between 1 and 366. Figure 1(b) shows
for Julian day 284 indicating higher mean values
than those shown in Figure 1(a). Figure 1(c) shows the
LST anomaly (on a pixel basis), which is defned as
the difference between the daily LST and LST
. Since
is higher than LST for 10 October 2000, the
resulting anomaly for this day is slightly negative. In this
case, neutral to weak negative anomalies.
is affected, among others, by the vegetation
coverage and mineralogy. The albedo of surface miner-
alogy determines the amount of radiation that will be
absorbed by the surface, while its emissivity refects the
effciency of thermal IR emission. The red (dark in Black
and White) patches along the mountainous coast of the Red
Sea manifest high LSTattributed to surface properties. The
anomaly shown in Figure 1(c) eliminates these patterns.
The remaining pattern is attributed mainly to the synoptic
scale circulation effects.
3. Results and discussion
Hengl et al. (2012) while predicting daily temperatures
using time-series of MODIS LST images showed that the
climatological daily surface temperatures explain about
60% of the variability. Knowing the temperature from
the day before increased the explained variability up to
81%. Typical temporal scale of synoptic systems is of a
few days; therefore, we attribute this improvement to the
contribution of synoptic scale circulation.
Here we analyse LST data along synoptic categories to
show the role of synoptic scale circulation on the LST pat-
terns for 6 out of the 19 synoptic categories (Dayan et al.,
2011) over the EM. Three for the winter (Figure 2(a)–(c)),
two for the summer (Figure 2(d) and (e)) and one for the
spring (Figure 2(f)). No unique circulation system charac-
terizes the fall.
Surface temperature is largely affected by wind direc-
tion and speed, while these are set by the location of
high and low pressure systems and their horizontal
gradient. The frst two winter circulation patterns dis-
play ‘Shallow’ (Figure 3(a)) and ‘Deep’ (Figure 3(b))
modes of the ‘low to the east’ synoptic system. The
third demonstrates an opposite picture: ‘High to the east’
(Figure 3(c)). Two summer systems will follow: ‘Deep’
(Figure 3(d)) and ‘Shallow Persian trough’ (Figure 3(e)).
Finally the ‘Sharav low to the west’ characterizing the
spring will be analysed (Figure 3(f)). The impact of these
© 2014 Royal Meteorological Society Int. J. Climatol. (2014)
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 4. (a) Mean LST, with overlay of mean SLP (grey). (b) Mean T
. (c) LST anomaly. (d) T
anomaly, all for the ‘Shallow low to the east’
synoptic category.
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 5. (a) Mean LST, with overlay of mean SLP (grey). (b) Mean T
. (c) LST anomaly. (d) T
anomaly, all for the ‘Deep low to the east’
synoptic category.
synoptic circulation patterns on the surface tempera-
ture will be examined by the LST and air temperature
3.1. Winter
The ‘Low to the east’ synoptic category is related to a low
barometric trough centred over Iraq generating a north-
westerly fow over the EM. This category is manifested
by two essential modes according to the horizontal sur-
face pressure gradient: the ‘Shallow’ (Figure 3(a)) and the
‘Deep’ (Figure 3(b)) modes. The composite SLP chart for
the ‘Shallow’ mode shows a distinct trough with a mini-
mum of 1009 hPa over Iraq (‘L’ in Figure 3(a)) extending
southeastward towards Saudi-Arabia, surrounded by an
arc-like high extending from the Balkans towards Libya.
Mean LST (Figure 4(a)) and air temperature (Figure 4(b))
show typical winter values of 20–35

C for the ‘Shal-
low’ and 15–30

C for the ‘Deep’ mode. However, the
LST anomaly feld (Figure 4(c)) has a pronounced nega-
tive anomaly extending from Syria to Egypt. The ‘Deep’
mode (Figure 5) is characterized by a stronger horizontal
pressure gradient (Figure 3(b)) leading to stronger winds,
together with deeper temperature gradients, generating
wider and stronger temperature advection (Figure 6(c) vs
(a)). This stronger temperature advection is manifested by
prominent anomalies of LST (Figure 5(c)) and confrmed
by the air temperature (Figure 5(d)). The advection shown
in Figure 6(c) is, as expected, collocated with stronger sub-
sidence (positive Omega, in Figure 6(d)), and positive tem-
perature advection, with negative Omega. In the ‘Deep’
mode the values (±2 cms
) are about twice as large as
compared to the ‘Shallow’ mode.
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 6. ‘Shallow low to the east’: (a) Temperature advection and (b) Omega. ‘Deep low to the east’: (c) Temperature advection and (d) Omega.
Wind vectors (
− →
) are plotted as arrows.
© 2014 Royal Meteorological Society Int. J. Climatol. (2014)
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 7. (a) Mean LST, with overlay of mean SLP (grey). (b) Mean T
. (c) LST anomaly. (d) T
anomaly, all for the ‘High to the east’ synoptic
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 8. (a) Mean LST, with overlay of mean SLP (grey). (b) Mean T
. (c) LST anomaly. (d) T
anomaly, all for the ‘Weak Persian trough’
synoptic category.
The areas of strong negative temperature anomalies
(Figure 4(c)) stem from the negative temperature advec-
tion (Figure 6(a)) generated by the northwesterly winds.
The negative advection and the associated anomalies are
even stronger in the deep mode (Figure 5(c) and (d)).
The ‘High to the east’ synoptic category is a surface high
pressure developing over Syria and Iraq, often accompa-
nied by a low-pressure system over the EM Basin. Both
generate south to southeasterly winds carrying warm air
masses from Saudi-Arabia, Jordan and the Sinai Penin-
sula towards the EM, sometimes associated with minor
dust storms. This winter circulation system shows an
opposite picture as regarding to the fow pattern charac-
terizing both modes of the ‘Low to the east’ inducing
opposite temperature anomalies (Figures 4(c) and (d) and
5(c) and (d) vs. 7(c) and (d)). Note the high consistent
eminent patterns of the positive temperature anomalies
of both LST and surface air temperature associated with
the southeasterly winds characterizing the ‘High to the
3.2. Summer
The dominant synoptic condition prevailing during the
summer (mid-May to mid-September) over the EM is the
‘Persian trough’ extending from the Persian Gulf towards
the southern shores of Turkey. This trough together with
the Azorean high to the west generates northwest winds
over the EM. The synoptic winds coincide with the sea
breeze reinforcing it during daytime. In spite of the over-
all summer monotonic weather condition, the Persian
trough is classifed into ‘Weak’ (Figure 2(d)) and ‘Deep’
(Figure 2(e)) modes according to the surface pressure gra-
dient between Nicosia (Cyprus) and Cairo (Egypt) (Dayan
et al., 2002).
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 9. (a) Mean LST, with overlay of mean SLP (grey). (b) Mean T
. (c) LST anomaly. (d) T
anomaly, all for the ‘Deep Persian trough’
synoptic category.
© 2014 Royal Meteorological Society Int. J. Climatol. (2014)
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 10. (a) Mean LST, with overlay of mean SLP (grey). (b) Mean T
. (c) LST anomaly. (d) T
anomaly, all for the ‘Sharav cyclone’ synoptic
The ‘Weak Persian trough’ (Figure 2(d)) is about four
times more frequent than the ‘Deep’ mode; therefore no
anomalies are observed in Figure 8(c) and (d). The neg-
ative anomalies in Figure 9(c) and (d) stem from stronger
onshore westerly winds. Lensky and Dayan (2012) showed
the synoptic scale cooling effect of the ‘Deep’ mode from
early morning to late afternoon as compared to a much
shorter duration of the mesoscale cooling effect in the
‘Weak’ mode, attributed to the sea breeze.
3.3. Spring
The ‘Sharav cyclone’, sometime referred to as ‘Saharan
Depression’, is formed on the lee-side and to the south
of the Atlas Mountains during the spring. This small
(500–1000 km) and shallowcyclone migrates rapidly east-
wards along the North African coast due to the baroclinic
instability caused by the strong thermal gradient formed
along the coast. This low is characterized by an active
warm front and prominent high temperature in its warm
sector (Alpert and Ziv, 1989).
The signifcant positive anomalies in the forefront of this
cyclone (Figure 10(c) and (d)) stem from southwesterly
winds advecting hot air masses from North Africa towards
the Levant, consistent with numerical simulations (Egger
et al., 1995). The negative anomaly in the cold sector of
this shallow low is attributed to strong cool advection.
4. Summary and conclusions
We averaged 2000–2012 MODIS LST and air tempera-
ture along six synoptic categories over the EM, resulting
with patterns that refect mainly the seasonality. In order
to reveal the impact of the synoptic scale circulation on
the surface temperature, anomalies of LST and air tem-
perature were calculated for each synoptic category. We
analysed winter and summer synoptic categories, both in
their ‘Deep’ and ‘Weak’ modes. In both cases the nega-
tive LST anomaly pattern displayed in the ‘Weak’ mode
was amplifed in the ‘Deep’ mode. This was supported
by a stronger temperature advection pattern in the ‘Deep’
mode. In the summer the ‘Weak’ mode predominates lead-
ing to negligible anomalies. A winter synoptic category
generating an opposite fow direction resulted in positive
LST anomaly. Although the spring ‘Sharav cyclone’ is
small and rapidly migrating, a distinct anomaly pattern is
We evaluated the effect of synoptic scale circulation on
LST among all of its other controlling factors. Knowl-
edge of all factors driving LST enables derivation of an
expected temperature. Deviation from the expected value
may improve our understanding of surface processes such
as local effects of global changes.
Funding for this study was provided by the Israel Sci-
ence Foundation, grant No. 1009/11. NASA provided the
MODIS data. The authors are grateful to Steven Feld-
stein and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable
Supporting Information
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