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

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 options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Geographical distribution of simulated annual mean twenty-first-century precipitation, surface evaporation, and sea-ice cover changes in the Arctic region.
Figure 2: Simulated annual and monthly twenty-first-century changes in Arctic mean precipitation, poleward moisture transport across 70° N (remote origin) and surface evaporation components (local origin).
Figure 3: Dependence of simulated Arctic mean twenty-first-century changes in surface evaporation, poleward moisture transport and precipitation on Arctic mean surface air temperature change.
Figure 4: Simulated twenty-first-century Arctic mean precipitation, evaporation and moisture transport sensitivities.

References

  1. 1

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Collins, M. 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 Stocker, T. F. et al.) 1029–1136 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)

  3. 3

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

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

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

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

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

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Stephens, G. L. & Ellis, T. D. Controls of global-mean precipitation increases in global warming GCM experiments. J. Clim. 21, 6141–6155 (2008)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Min, S. K., Zhang, X. & Zwiers, F. Human-induced Arctic moistening. Science 320, 518–520 (2008)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

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

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

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

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

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

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

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

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Alexeev, V. A., Langen, P. L. & Bates, J. R. Polar amplification of surface warming on an aquaplanet in ‘ghost forcing’ experiments without sea ice feedbacks. Clim. Dyn. 24, 655–666 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

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

  24. 24

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

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

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

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Barry, R. G. & Serreze, M. C. in The Freshwater Budget of the Arctic Ocean 45–56 (eds Lewis, E. L. et al.) (Kluwer, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Bintanja, R., van der Linden, E. C. & Hazeleger, W. Boundary layer stability and Arctic climate change: a feedback study using EC-Earth. Clim. Dyn. 39, 2659–2673 (2012)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Bintanja, R. & van der Linden, E. C. The changing seasonal climate in the Arctic. Sci. Rep. 3, 1556 (2013)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

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

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

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

Authors

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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Bintanja.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Schematic overview of the main processes discussed in the paper.

Blue arrows denote future changes in the Arctic various moisture fluxes, with the size of the arrows loosely depicting the magnitude of the changes. The red text and arrows represent the associated climatic consequences.

Extended Data Figure 2 Number of CMIP5 models that simulate specific amounts of precipitation, surface evaporation and moisture transport across 60°N.

Distributions of Arctic (60°–90° N) precipitation (a), surface evaporation (b) and poleward moisture transport across 60° N (c) in terms of the number of CMIP5 models that simulate a specific amount. Distributions are given for the present (green), future RCP4.5 (red) and future RCP8.5 (blue). Dashed lines denote the model-mean values, while the purple line shows the present-day value derived from reanalyses data4.

Extended Data Figure 3 Simulated twenty-first-century changes in sea surface salinity in the Arctic Ocean north of 70° N.

Results are shown for the intermediate forcing scenario (RCP4.5) (a) and the strong forcing (RCP8.5) (b), sorted according to the magnitude of the change. The dashed line shows the multimodel-mean value. The salinity is shown on the colour scale in practical salinity units (PSU).

Extended Data Figure 4 Simulated changes in sea surface salinity resulting from a 50% increase in precipitation over the Arctic Ocean north of 70° N using the global climate model EC-Earth30.

The salinity change is shown on the colour scale in PSU.

Extended Data Figure 5 Simulated change in Arctic mean sea surface salinity against the ratio of changes in moisture transport across 70° N and surface evaporation.

The ratio is equivalent to the ratio of remote and local contributions. Each square represents one CMIP5 model. The straight line shows the best linear fit to the data, where R is the correlation coefficient and p is the probability that uncorrelated data of the same sample size would yield a similar relationship.

Extended Data Figure 6 Simulated AMOC strength as a function of Arctic precipitation increase.

Time series of simulated annual-mean AMOC strength at 30° N for the various Arctic precipitation (P) change simulations (see main text for details) carried out with the global climate model EC-Earth30.

Extended Data Table 1 Arctic moisture flux components and their changes for the RCP4.5 scenario
Extended Data Table 2 Arctic moisture flux components and their changes for the RCP8.5 scenario

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bintanja, R., Selten, F. Future increases in Arctic precipitation linked to local evaporation and sea-ice retreat. Nature 509, 479–482 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13259

Download citation

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.

Search

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter for a daily update on COVID-19 science.
Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing