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September sea-ice cover in the Arctic Ocean projected to vanish by 2100

An Erratum to this article was published on 21 May 2009


The Arctic climate is changing rapidly1. From 1979 to 2006, September sea-ice extent decreased by almost 25% or about 100,000 km2 per year (ref. 2). In September 2007, Arctic sea-ice extent reached its lowest level since satellite observations began3 and in September 2008, sea-ice cover was still low. This development has raised concerns that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in late summer in only a few decades, with important economic and geopolitical implications. Unfortunately, most current climate models underestimate significantly the observed trend in Arctic sea-ice decline4, leading to doubts regarding their projections for the timing of ice-free conditions. Here we analyse the simulated trends in past sea-ice cover in 18 state-of-art-climate models and find a direct relationship between the simulated evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century and the magnitude of past trends in sea-ice cover. Using this relationship together with observed trends, we project the evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century. We find that under a scenario with medium future greenhouse-gas emissions, the Arctic Ocean will probably be ice-free in September before the end of the twenty-first century.

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Figure 1: Observed and simulated evolution of SSIE in the Arctic.
Figure 2: Relationship between SSIE changes through the twenty-first century in the CMIP3 models and historical sea-ice cover properties.
Figure 3: Illustration of the methodology developed to project future SSIE changes and projected future SSIE changes.
Figure 4: Results of two sensitivity analyses of the projected SSIE.

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The authors are supported by NSF ARC-0714083. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect NSF views. We acknowledge the modelling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model data set. Support of this data set is provided by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy.

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A.H., J.B. and X.Q. are responsible for project planning. J.B. carried out most of the analysis. J.B. and A.H. wrote the paper. All of the authors contributed to discussions of the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Julien Boé.

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

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