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Twenty-five winters of unexpected Eurasian cooling unlikely due to Arctic sea-ice loss

Abstract

Surface air temperature over central Eurasia decreased over the past twenty-five winters at a time of strongly increasing anthropogenic forcing and Arctic amplification. It has been suggested that this cooling was related to an increase in cold winters due to sea-ice loss in the Barents–Kara Sea. Here we use over 600 years of atmosphere-only global climate model simulations to isolate the effect of Arctic sea-ice loss, complemented with a 50-member ensemble of atmosphere–ocean global climate model simulations allowing for external forcing changes (anthropogenic and natural) and internal variability. In our atmosphere-only simulations, we find no evidence of Arctic sea-ice loss having impacted Eurasian surface temperature. In our atmosphere–ocean simulations, we find just one simulation with Eurasian cooling of the observed magnitude but Arctic sea-ice loss was not involved, either directly or indirectly. Rather, in this simulation the cooling is due to a persistent circulation pattern combining high pressure over the Barents–Kara Sea and a downstream trough. We conclude that the observed cooling over central Eurasia was probably due to a sea-ice-independent internally generated circulation pattern ensconced over, and nearby, the Barents–Kara Sea since the 1980s. These results improve our knowledge of high-latitude climate variability and change, with implications for our understanding of impacts in high-northern-latitude systems.

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Figure 1: Observed change in boreal winter SAT and BKS sea-ice concentration since 1979.
Figure 2: Observed and simulated changes in boreal winter BKS sea-ice concentration and CEUR SAT associated with BKS sea-ice.
Figure 3: Relationship of changes in observed and simulated circulation index to CEUR SAT changes.
Figure 4: Spatial regression of circulation and SAT on circulation index and BKS sea-ice concentration changes.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis for executing and making available the CanESM2 large ensemble simulations used in this study, and the Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution (CanSISE) Network for proposing the simulations. K.E.M. was supported by the CanSISE Network, which is funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) under the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) programme. We thank N. Swart and B. Merryfield for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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K.E.M. and J.C.F. conceived of the project and experiments and wrote the manuscript. M.S. provided guidance on the experiments and helped write the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kelly E. McCusker.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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McCusker, K., Fyfe, J. & Sigmond, M. Twenty-five winters of unexpected Eurasian cooling unlikely due to Arctic sea-ice loss. Nature Geosci 9, 838–842 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2820

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