Letter | Published:

A reconciled estimate of the influence of Arctic sea-ice loss on recent Eurasian cooling

Nature Climate Changevolume 9pages123129 (2019) | Download Citation

Abstract

Northern midlatitudes, over central Eurasia in particular, have experienced frequent severe winters in recent decades1,2,3. A remote influence of Arctic sea-ice loss has been suggested4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14; however, the importance of this connection remains controversial because of discrepancies among modelling and between modelling and observational studies15,16,17. Here, using a hybrid analysis of observations and multi-model large ensembles from seven atmospheric general circulation models, we examine the cause of these differences. While all models capture the observed structure of the forced surface temperature response to sea-ice loss in the Barents–Kara Seas—including Eurasian cooling—we show that its magnitude is systematically underestimated. Owing to the varying degrees of this underestimation of sea-ice-forced signal, the signal-to-noise ratio differs markedly. Correcting this underestimation reconciles the discrepancy between models and observations, leading to the conclusion that ~44% of the central Eurasian cooling trend for 1995–2014 is attributable to sea-ice loss in the Barents–Kara Seas. Our results strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has significantly amplified the probability of severe winter occurrence in central Eurasia via enhanced melting of the Barents–Kara sea ice. The difference in underestimation of signal-to-noise ratio between models therefore calls for careful experimental design and interpretation for regional climate change attribution.

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Data availability

The monthly SST and SIC in HadISST33 are available from the Met Office website (www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadisst/). The ERA-Interim reanalysis data sets44 are available from the ECMWF website (http://apps.ecmwf.int/datasets/). The six additional AGCM outputs analysed are freely available from the NOAA FACTS website (https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/repository/alias/facts/). The MIROC4 AGCM output generated and analysed in this study is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the modelling groups and their members who generated the FACTS climate model simulation data provided by NOAA/ESRL/PSD. We are grateful for the stimulating discussions with B. Taguchi. This work is supported in part by the Integrated Research Program for Advancing Climate Models from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan, by the Arctic Challenge for Sustainability (ArCS) Program from MEXT, Japan, and by the Japan Science and Technology Agency through the Belmont Forum Collaborative Research Action ‘InterDec’ project.

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Affiliations

  1. Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

    • Masato Mori
    • , Yu Kosaka
    •  & Hisashi Nakamura
  2. Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, Chiba, Japan

    • Masahiro Watanabe
    •  & Masahide Kimoto

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Contributions

M.M. designed the research and performed the numerical experiments and analyses. M.M., Y.K. and M.W. wrote the manuscript with discussion and feedback from H.N. and M.K.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Masato Mori.

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    Supplementary Figs. 1–10, Supplementary Table 1

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0379-3

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