Increased Arctic sea ice volume after anomalously low melting in 2013

Abstract

Changes in Arctic sea ice volume affect regional heat and freshwater budgets and patterns of atmospheric circulation at lower latitudes. Despite a well-documented decline in summer Arctic sea ice extent by about 40% since the late 1970s, it has been difficult to quantify trends in sea ice volume because detailed thickness observations have been lacking. Here we present an assessment of the changes in Northern Hemisphere sea ice thickness and volume using five years of CryoSat-2 measurements. Between autumn 2010 and 2012, there was a 14% reduction in Arctic sea ice volume, in keeping with the long-term decline in extent. However, we observe 33% and 25% more ice in autumn 2013 and 2014, respectively, relative to the 2010–2012 seasonal mean, which offset earlier losses. This increase was caused by the retention of thick sea ice northwest of Greenland during 2013 which, in turn, was associated with a 5% drop in the number of days on which melting occurred—conditions more typical of the late 1990s. In contrast, springtime Arctic sea ice volume has remained stable. The sharp increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered.

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Figure 1: Northern Hemisphere sea ice thicknesses as measured by CryoSat-2, from 2010–2014.
Figure 2: Observed and modelled Northern Hemisphere sea ice volume, from 2010–2014.
Figure 3: The relationship between Arctic sea ice volume and summer melting.

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Acknowledgements

This study is based on the work of our late colleagues S. Laxon and K. Giles, and we are indebted to them for the excellent foundations they have left. We thank C. Haas and the CryoVEx EM-Bird team for providing us with their data, as well as all those whose publicly available data we have used. This work was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, with support from the UK National Centre for Earth Observation.

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R.L.T. and A.R. developed and analysed the satellite and ancillary observations. A.S. and D.J.W. supervised the work. R.L.T., A.R. and A.S. wrote the paper. All authors commented on the text.

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Correspondence to Rachel L. Tilling.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Tilling, R., Ridout, A., Shepherd, A. et al. Increased Arctic sea ice volume after anomalously low melting in 2013. Nature Geosci 8, 643–646 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2489

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