Analysis of the synoptic climatology and precipitation patterns over the North Atlantic region allows for a better understanding of the atmospheric input to the mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet. The self-organizing map (SOM) technique was applied to the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Re-Analysis (ERA-40) daily sea level pressure (SLP) data from 1961 to 1999 to objectively identify synoptic SLP patterns over the North Atlantic region. A total of 35 different SLP patterns were identified. Patterns common to the winter season are characterized by deep low pressure systems that approach Greenland through an active North Atlantic storm track, whereas patterns most common to the summer months are generally weaker and approach the ice sheet from the west through Baffin Bay. The blocking, splitting, and intensification of cyclones by the high elevations of the Greenland ice sheet were identified in this analysis.;
Analysis of ERA-40 precipitation associated with each SLP pattern revealed that the largest precipitation events were associated with passing cyclones that created onshore flow, allowing the air to be lifted orographically by the steep margins of the ice sheet. The ERA-40 annual mean precipitation over Greenland from 1961 to 1999 was 35.8 cm yr−1. Greenland was divided into five subregions, and the preferred synoptic patterns for receiving precipitation in each region include cyclones positioned to allow dynamic and orographic lift in each region. Annual precipitation contributions from each SLP pattern were isolated to reveal that half of the annual mean precipitation over Greenland comes from only 11 of the 35 identified synoptic patterns (31.4%), highlighting the importance of studying Greenland precipitation on an event-by-event basis on a daily time scale.