Letter | Published:

Future increases in Arctic precipitation linked to local evaporation and sea-ice retreat

Nature volume 509, pages 479482 (22 May 2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Precipitation changes projected for the end of the twenty-first century show an increase of more than 50 per cent in the Arctic regions1,2. This marked increase, which is among the highest globally, has previously been attributed primarily to enhanced poleward moisture transport from lower latitudes3,4. Here we use state-of-the-art global climate models5 to show that the projected increases in Arctic precipitation over the twenty-first century, which peak in late autumn and winter, are instead due mainly to strongly intensified local surface evaporation (maximum in winter), and only to a lesser degree due to enhanced moisture inflow from lower latitudes (maximum in late summer and autumn). Moreover, we show that the enhanced surface evaporation results mainly from retreating winter sea ice, signalling an amplified Arctic hydrological cycle. This demonstrates that increases in Arctic precipitation are firmly linked to Arctic warming and sea-ice decline. As a result, the Arctic mean precipitation sensitivity (4.5 per cent increase per degree of temperature warming) is much larger than the global value (1.6 to 1.9 per cent per kelvin). The associated seasonally varying increase in Arctic precipitation is likely to increase river discharge6,7,8 and snowfall over ice sheets9 (thereby affecting global sea level), and could even affect global climate through freshening of the Arctic Ocean and subsequent modulations of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation10,11.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    et al. Simulation and projection of Arctic freshwater budget components by the IPCC AR4 global climate models. J. Hydrometeorol. 8, 571–589 (2007)

  2. 2.

    et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds et al.) 1029–1136 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)

  3. 3.

    et al. Role of synoptic eddy feedback on polar climate responses to the anthropogenic forcing. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L14704 (2010)

  4. 4.

    et al. The changing atmospheric water cycle in polar regions in a warmer climate. Tellus A 63, 907–920 (2011)

  5. 5.

    , & An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012)

  6. 6.

    et al. Increasing river discharge to the Arctic Ocean. Science 298, 2171–2173 (2002)

  7. 7.

    , & Simulated Arctic Ocean freshwater budgets in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. J. Clim. 19, 6221–6242 (2006)

  8. 8.

    et al. Enhanced poleward moisture transport and amplified northern high-latitude wetting trend. Nature Clim. Change 3, 47–51 (2013)

  9. 9.

    , & Twenty-first-century climate impacts from a declining Arctic sea ice cover. J. Clim. 19, 1109–1125 (2006)

  10. 10.

    & Twentieth-century trends of Arctic precipitation from observational data and a climate model simulation. J. Clim. 13, 1362–1370 (2000)

  11. 11.

    , & The Arctic freshwater cycle during a naturally and an anthropogenically induced warm climate. Clim. Dyn. 42, 2099–2112 (2014)

  12. 12.

    & Robust responses of the hydrological cycle to global warming. J. Clim. 19, 5686–5699 (2006)

  13. 13.

    & Controls of global-mean precipitation increases in global warming GCM experiments. J. Clim. 21, 6141–6155 (2008)

  14. 14.

    & Declining summer snowfall in the Arctic: causes, impacts and feedbacks. Clim. Dyn. 38, 2243–2256 (2012)

  15. 15.

    , & Human-induced Arctic moistening. Science 320, 518–520 (2008)

  16. 16.

    et al. Arctic precipitation and evaporation: model results and observational estimates. J. Clim. 11, 72–87 (1998)

  17. 17.

    et al. Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 4074–4079 (2012)

  18. 18.

    et al. Important role for ocean warming and increased ice-shelf melt in Antarctic sea-ice expansion. Nature Geosci. 6, 376–379 (2013)

  19. 19.

    et al. Projected changes in Arctic Ocean freshwater budgets. J. Geophys. Res. 112, G04S55 (2007)

  20. 20.

    Dynamical amplification of polar warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L22710 (2005)

  21. 21.

    , & Polar amplification of surface warming on an aquaplanet in ‘ghost forcing’ experiments without sea ice feedbacks. Clim. Dyn. 24, 655–666 (2005)

  22. 22.

    et al. An arctic hydrologic system in transition: feedbacks and impacts on terrestrial, marine, and human life. J. Geophys. Res. 114, G04019 (2009)

  23. 23.

    ACIA. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005)

  24. 24.

    in The Freshwater Budget of the Arctic Ocean 21–43 (eds et al.) (Kluwer, 2000)

  25. 25.

    Origin of Arctic water vapor during the ice-growth season. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L02709 (2011)

  26. 26.

    , & Arctic winter warming amplified by the thermal inversion and consequent low infrared cooling to space. Nature Geosci. 4, 758–761 (2011)

  27. 27.

    & in The Freshwater Budget of the Arctic Ocean 45–56 (eds et al.) (Kluwer, 2000)

  28. 28.

    , & Boundary layer stability and Arctic climate change: a feedback study using EC-Earth. Clim. Dyn. 39, 2659–2673 (2012)

  29. 29.

    & The changing seasonal climate in the Arctic. Sci. Rep. 3, 1556 (2013)

  30. 30.

    et al. EC-Earth: a seamless Earth system prediction approach in action. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 91, 1357–1363 (2010)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank all climate-modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led the development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We are grateful to the EC-Earth consortium for their contribution to the development of the Earth System Model EC-Earth. We thank C. A. Katsman and R. G. Graversen for their comments on the manuscript, and to G. J. van Oldenborgh for information on intermodel versus intramodel climate variability.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Utrechtseweg 297, 3731GA, De Bilt, The Netherlands

    • R. Bintanja
    •  & F. M. Selten

Authors

  1. Search for R. Bintanja in:

  2. Search for F. M. Selten in:

Contributions

R.B. developed the ideas that led to this paper. R.B. and F.M.S. analysed the climate model simulations. R.B. wrote the main paper, with input from F.M.S. Both authors discussed the results and implications and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Bintanja.

Extended data

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13259

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.