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The impact of lower sea-ice extent on Arctic greenhouse-gas exchange


In September 2012, Arctic sea-ice extent plummeted to a new record low: two times lower than the 1979–2000 average. Often, record lows in sea-ice cover are hailed as an example of climate change impacts in the Arctic. Less apparent, however, are the implications of reduced sea-ice cover in the Arctic Ocean for marine–atmosphere CO2 exchange. Sea-ice decline has been connected to increasing air temperatures at high latitudes. Temperature is a key controlling factor in the terrestrial exchange of CO2 and methane, and therefore the greenhouse-gas balance of the Arctic. Despite the large potential for feedbacks, many studies do not connect the diminishing sea-ice extent with changes in the interaction of the marine and terrestrial Arctic with the atmosphere. In this Review, we assess how current understanding of the Arctic Ocean and high-latitude ecosystems can be used to predict the impact of a lower sea-ice cover on Arctic greenhouse-gas exchange.

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Figure 1: Autumn sea-ice and temperature trends in the Arctic.
Figure 2: Trends in sea ice, SWI and NDVI.
Figure 3: Simplified representation of Arctic carbon fluxes that are possibly influenced by sea ice retreat.
Figure 4: Trends in anomalies of sea-ice extent, mean summer temperature and tundra methane emissions.


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This paper came forth from fruitful discussions at the mini-conference 'Ocean-Land Interactions at High Latitudes' held in Nuuk, Greenland in September 2011. We would like to thank the Marie Curie FP7 Research and Training Network GREENCYCLESII, The Nordic Centre of Excellence DEFROST and the International Arctic Science Committee IASC for providing funding which made this meeting possible, as well as the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources together with the Greenland Climate Research Centre for being the host institution. The research leading to these results has received funding from the [European Community's] Seventh Framework Programme (FP7 2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [238366]. Apart from this funding for F.J.W. Parmentier, we also like to acknowledge the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) program for providing funds for S. Rysgaard, both the Mistra Swedish Research Programme for Climate, Impacts and Adaptation (Mistra-SWECIA) and the Lund University Centre for Studies of Carbon Cycle and Climate Interactions (LUCCI) for providing funds for P.A. Miller, and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF, grant no. ARC-0902175) and National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA, grant no. NNX09AK56G) for providing funds to D.A. Walker. Last but not least, we like to thank Dan Hayes, Rita Wania and Ben Smith for making the TEM6 and LPJ-GUESS WHyMe model runs possible, Uma Bhatt for kindly providing the data for Fig. 2, and Carline Tromp for her thorough critique of text structure.

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F.J.W.P. wrote the main text, but L.L.S and S.R. provided a large part of the text on the ocean CO2 fluxes, while all authors contributed. A.D.McG. and P.A.M provided the TEM6 and LPJ-GUESS WHyMe model runs. Figures 1, 2 and 4 were made by F.J.W.P., and Fig. 3 was made by L.L.S. with assistance from F.J.W.P.

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Correspondence to Frans-Jan W. Parmentier.

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Parmentier, FJ., Christensen, T., Sørensen, L. et al. The impact of lower sea-ice extent on Arctic greenhouse-gas exchange. Nature Clim Change 3, 195–202 (2013).

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