Influence of high-latitude atmospheric circulation changes on summertime Arctic sea ice

Journal name:
Nature Climate Change
Volume:
7,
Pages:
289–295
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nclimate3241
Received
Accepted
Published online

Abstract

The Arctic has seen rapid sea-ice decline in the past three decades, whilst warming at about twice the global average rate. Yet the relationship between Arctic warming and sea-ice loss is not well understood. Here, we present evidence that trends in summertime atmospheric circulation may have contributed as much as 60% to the September sea-ice extent decline since 1979. A tendency towards a stronger anticyclonic circulation over Greenland and the Arctic Ocean with a barotropic structure in the troposphere increased the downwelling longwave radiation above the ice by warming and moistening the lower troposphere. Model experiments, with reanalysis data constraining atmospheric circulation, replicate the observed thermodynamic response and indicate that the near-surface changes are dominated by circulation changes rather than feedbacks from the changing sea-ice cover. Internal variability dominates the Arctic summer circulation trend and may be responsible for about 30–50% of the overall decline in September sea ice since 1979.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Relationship between the September Arctic sea ice and summer large-scale circulation.
    Figure 1: Relationship between the September Arctic sea ice and summer large-scale circulation.

    a, Linear trend (% per decade) of September sea-ice concentration from the NSIDC passive microwave monthly sea-ice record (1979–2014). b, Linear trend (m per decade) of JJA Z200 and surface wind (ms−1 per decade) in ERA-Interim reanalysis. c, Domain-averaged time series for September sea-ice anomaly (%) averaged over the region circled by the blue contour in a, lower-level (1,000hPa to 750hPa) JJA temperature (°C) and JJA specific humidity anomalies (gkg−1) in the Arctic (averaged over the region north of 70° N), JJA downwelling longwave radiation (LW) anomaly at surface (Wm−2) in the Arctic north of 70° N, and JJA Z200 anomaly (m) over Greenland (66°–80° N, 310°–330° E, indicated by the dot in b, and referred to as GL-Z200). dg, Correlation of each time series in c with JJA Z200 for the period 1979–2014. In d, regression of JJA surface wind with September sea-ice index is superposed. The sign is reversed in d for simplicity of comparison with other plots. In f, regression between the specific humidity index and vertically integrated water vapour flux is plotted. All linear trends are removed in calculating the correlations in dg. Black stippling in all plots indicates statistically significant correlation or trend at the 5% level; in d and f, vectors are plotted when regressions are statistically significant at the 5% level.

  2. Simulated impact of atmospheric circulation on Arctic thermodynamic trends.
    Figure 2: Simulated impact of atmospheric circulation on Arctic thermodynamic trends.

    a, Meridional cross-section of the linear trend of zonal mean JJA temperature (shading, °C per decade), geopotential height (black contour, m per decade) and vertical velocity (red/blue contour, interval: 6 × 10−5Pas−1decade−1) in ERA-I (1979–2014). b,c, Same as a but for Exp-1 and Exp-2 simulations, respectively. d, Linear trend of lower tropospheric (1,000hPa to 750hPa) JJA temperature (shading, °C per decade) and geopotential height at 700hPa (red contour, m/decade) in ERA-I (1979–2014). e,f, Same as d but for Exp-1 and Exp-2 simulations, respectively. g, Linear trend of September sea-ice concentration (% per decade) simulated in Exp-2. h, Domain-averaged time series for lower tropospheric (1,000hPa to 750hPa) JJA temperature (°C) and specific humidity anomalies (gkg−1), and JJA downwelling longwave radiation (LW) anomaly (Wm−2) at surface in the Arctic (north of 70° N) simulated in Exp-2. In d to g stippling indicates statistically significant trends at the 5% level.

  3. Simulated impact of atmospheric circulation on summertime Arctic sea-ice trends.
    Figure 3: Simulated impact of atmospheric circulation on summertime Arctic sea-ice trends.

    a,b,d,e, Linear trend of September sea-ice concentration (a,b, % per decade) and thickness (d,e, m per decade) in Exp-5 (denoted as ‘full forcing) and Exp-6 (denoted as ‘modified forcing). c, Anomalous total area of September sea-ice extent (area of ocean with ice concentration of at least 15%) in both simulations and NSIDC observations. f, Anomalous total volume of September sea ice (area of ocean with ice concentration of at least 15%) in both simulations and the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS; ref. 46).

  4. Observed and estimated radiatively forced trends in upper and lower tropospheric geopotential height and winds.
    Figure 4: Observed and estimated radiatively forced trends in upper and lower tropospheric geopotential height and winds.

    af, Linear trends of JJA geopotential height (m per decade) and zonal and meridional winds at 200hPa (ac) and 700hPa (df) for the period 1979–2014 from a and d ERA-I (a,d) (repeated from Fig. 1b) the 26-model ensemble mean from the CMIP5 project (b,e) and the 30-member ensemble mean from the LENS project (c,f).

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Qinghua Ding
  2. Earth Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Qinghua Ding
  3. Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Qinghua Ding &
    • Axel Schweiger
  4. NOAA Climate Prediction Center, College Park, Maryland 20740, USA

    • Michelle LHeureux,
    • Kirstin Harnos &
    • Qin Zhang
  5. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • David S. Battisti,
    • Stephen Po-Chedley,
    • Eduardo Blanchard-Wrigglesworth,
    • Ryan Eastman &
    • Eric J. Steig
  6. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • David S. Battisti &
    • Eric J. Steig
  7. Cooperative Institute for Climate Science, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, USA

    • Nathaniel C. Johnson

Contributions

Q.D. led this work with contributions from all authors. Q.D. made the calculations, implemented the general circulation model experiments, created the figures, and led writing of the paper. All authors contributed to the experimental design, interpreting results and writing the paper.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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