Contribution of sea-ice loss to Arctic amplification is regulated by Pacific Ocean decadal variability


The pace of Arctic warming is about double that at lower latitudes—a robust phenomenon known as Arctic amplification1. Many diverse climate processes and feedbacks cause Arctic amplification2,3,4,5,6,7, including positive feedbacks associated with diminished sea ice6,7. However, the precise contribution of sea-ice loss to Arctic amplification remains uncertain7,8. Through analyses of both observations and model simulations, we show that the contribution of sea-ice loss to wintertime Arctic amplification seems to be dependent on the phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Our results suggest that, for the same pattern and amount of sea-ice loss, consequent Arctic warming is larger during the negative PDO phase relative to the positive phase, leading to larger reductions in the poleward gradient of tropospheric thickness and to more pronounced reductions in the upper-level westerlies. Given the oscillatory nature of the PDO, this relationship has the potential to increase skill in decadal-scale predictability of the Arctic and sub-Arctic climate. Our results indicate that Arctic warming in response to the ongoing long-term sea-ice decline9,10 is greater (reduced) during periods of the negative (positive) PDO phase. We speculate that the observed recent shift to the positive PDO phase, if maintained and all other factors being equal, could act to temporarily reduce the pace of wintertime Arctic warming in the near future.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: PDO modulation of the observed relationship between wintertime Arctic amplification and sea-ice loss.
Figure 2: Surface signature of wintertime Arctic sea-ice loss and the negative PDO phase.
Figure 3: PDO modulation of simulated wintertime atmospheric response to Arctic sea-ice loss.
Figure 4: Influence of sea-ice loss and the PDO on simulated wintertime lower tropospheric temperature and circulation.


  1. 1

    Serreze, M. C. & Barry, R. G. Processes and impacts of Arctic amplification: a research synthesis. Glob. Planet. Change 77, 85–96 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Pithan, F. & Mauritsen, T. Arctic amplification dominated by temperature feedbacks in contemporary climate models. Nature Geosci. 7, 181–184 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

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

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Taylor, P. C. et al. A decomposition of feedback contributions to polar warming amplification. J. Clim. 26, 7023–7043 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Cohen, J. et al. Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather. Nature Geosci. 7, 627–637 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Burt, M. A., Randall, D. A. & Branson, M. D. Dark warming. J. Clim. 29, 705–719 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. The central role of diminishing sea-ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature 464, 1334–1337 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Graversen, R. G., Mauritsen, T., Tjernström, M., Källén, E. & Svensson, G. Vertical structure of recent Arctic warming. Nature 451, 53–56 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Boe, J., Hall, A. & Qu, X. September sea-ice cover in the Arctic Ocean projected to vanish by 2100. Nature Geosci. 2, 341–343 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Barnhart, K. R., Miller, C. R., Overeem, I. & Kay, J. E. Mapping the future expansion of Arctic open water. Nature Clim. Change 6, 280–285 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Miller, G. H. et al. Arctic amplification: can the past constrain the future? Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 1779–1790 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Barnes, E. A. & Polvani, L. M. CMIP5 projections of Arctic amplification, of the North American/North Atlantic circulation, and of their relationship. J. Clim. 28, 5254–5271 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Screen, J. A., Deser, C. & Simmonds, I. Local and remote controls on observed Arctic warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10709 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Perlwitz, J., Hoerling, M. & Dole, R. Arctic tropospheric warming: causes and linkages to lower latitudes. J. Clim. 28, 2154–2167 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Kumar, A. et al. Contribution of sea ice loss to Arctic amplification. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L21701 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Balmaseda, M. A., Ferranti, L., Molteni, F. & Palmer, T. N. Impact of 2007 and 2008 Arctic ice anomalies on the atmospheric circulation: implications for long-range predictions. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 136, 1655–1664 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Semenov, V. A. & Latif, M. Nonlinear winter atmospheric circulation response to Arctic sea-ice concentration anomalies for different periods during 1966–2012. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 054020 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Overland, J. et al. The melting Arctic and mid-latitude weather patterns: are they connected? J. Clim. 28, 7917–7932 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Screen, J. A. Arctic amplification decreases temperature variance in northern mid- to high-latitudes. Nature Clim. Change 4, 577–582 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Mantua, N. J., Hare, S. R., Zhang, Y., Wallace, J. M. & Francis, R. C. A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 78, 1069–1079 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Newman, M., Compo, G. P. & Alexander, M. A. ENSO-forced variability of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. J. Clim. 16, 3853–3857 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Schneider, N. & Corneulle, B. D. The forcing of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. J. Clim. 18, 4355–4373 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Miller, A. J., Chai, F., Chiba, S., Moisan, J. R. & Neilson, D. J. Decadal-scale climate and ecosystem interactions in the North Pacific Ocean. J. Oceanogr. 60, 163–188 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  25. 25

    Notz, D. & Marotzke, J. Observations reveal external driver for Arctic sea-ice retreat. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L08502 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Min, S.-K., Zhang, X., Zwiers, F. W. & Agnew, T. Human influence on Arctic sea ice detectable from early 1990s onwards. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L21701 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Deser, C., Alexander, M. A., Xie, S.-P. & Phillips, A. S. Sea surface temperature variability: patterns and mechanisms. Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci. 2, 115–143 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Deser, C., Tomas, R. A. & Sun, L. The role of ocean–atmosphere coupling in the zonal-mean atmospheric response to Arctic sea-ice loss. J. Clim. 28, 2168–2186 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Deser, C., Tomas, R. A., Alexander, M. & Lawrence, D. The seasonal atmospheric response to projected Arctic sea-ice loss in the late 21st century. J. Clim. 23, 333–351 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Francis, J. A. & Vavrus, S. J. Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L06801 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Rayner, N. A. et al. Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea-ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4407 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Kalnay, E. et al. The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 77, 437–471 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Martin, G. M. et al. The HadGEM2 family of Met Office Unified Model climate configurations. Geosci. Model Dev. 4, 723–757 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Deser, C., Sun, L., Tomas, R. A & Screen, J. Does ocean coupling matter for the northern extratropical response to projected Arctic sea ice loss? Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 2149–2157 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Screen, J. A., Simmonds, I., Deser, C. & Tomas, R. A. The atmospheric response to three decades of observed Arctic sea-ice loss. J. Clim. 26, 1230–1248 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


J.A.S. was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grants NE/J019585/1 and NE/M006123/1. J.A.F. was supported by NSF/ARCSS grant (1304097) and NASA grant (NNX14AH896). The model simulations were performed on the ARCHER UK National Supercomputing Service. We thank the NOAA ESRL and the UK Met Office Hadley Centre for provision of observational and reanalysis data sets. We also thank D. Ackerley for helping to diagnose the cause of model crashes and C. Deser for commenting on the manuscript before submission.

Author information




J.A.S. and J.A.F. jointly conceived the study. J.A.S. designed and performed the model experiments, and analysed the data. Both authors contributed to the interpretation of the results. J.A.S. wrote the manuscript with input from J.A.F.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James A. Screen.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 2065 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Screen, J., Francis, J. Contribution of sea-ice loss to Arctic amplification is regulated by Pacific Ocean decadal variability. Nature Clim Change 6, 856–860 (2016).

Download citation

Further reading


Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing