Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Minimal influence of reduced Arctic sea ice on coincident cold winters in mid-latitudes

Abstract

Observations show that reduced regional sea-ice cover is coincident with cold mid-latitude winters on interannual timescales. However, it remains unclear whether these observed links are causal, and model experiments suggest that they might not be. Here we apply two independent approaches to infer causality from observations and climate models and to reconcile these sources of data. Models capture the observed correlations between reduced sea ice and cold mid-latitude winters, but only when reduced sea ice coincides with anomalous heat transfer from the atmosphere to the ocean, implying that the atmosphere is driving the loss. Causal inference from the physics-based approach is corroborated by a lead–lag analysis, showing that circulation-driven temperature anomalies precede, but do not follow, reduced sea ice. Furthermore, no mid-latitude cooling is found in modelling experiments with imposed future sea-ice loss. Our results show robust support for anomalous atmospheric circulation simultaneously driving cold mid-latitude winters and mild Arctic conditions, and reduced sea ice having a minimal influence on severe mid-latitude winters.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Schematic representation of sea ice driving and being driven by the atmosphere.
Fig. 2: Temperature and circulation links with CBS ice.
Fig. 3: Temperature and circulation lead–lag regressions with CBS ice.
Fig. 4: Temperature and circulation links with BKS ice.
Fig. 5: Temperature and circulation response to projected sea-ice loss.

Data availability

The model output is available on reasonable request from the corresponding author. ERA-Interim reanalysis data were obtained from the ECMWF data server (https://www.ecmwf.int/en/forecasts/datasets/reanalysis-datasets/era-interim).

Code availability

The code used to create the figures is available on request from the corresponding author.

References

  1. 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 

  2. Walsh, J. E. Intensified warming of the Arctic: causes and impacts on middle latitudes. Glob. Planet. Change 117, 52–63 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Stroeve, J., Holland, M. M., Meier, W., Scambos, T. & Serreze, M. Arctic sea ice decline: faster than forecast. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L09501 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Stroeve, J. C. et al. Trends in Arctic sea ice extent from CMIP5, CMIP3 and observations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L16502 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Overland, J. E., Wood, K. R. & Wang, M. Warm Arctic-cold continents: climate impacts of the newly open Arctic Sea. Polar Res. 30, 15787 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Kug, J.-S. et al. Two distinct influences of Arctic warming on cold winters over North America and East Asia. Nat. Geosci. 8, 759–762 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Mori, M., Watanabe, M., Shiogama, H., Inoue, J. & Kimoto, M. Robust Arctic sea-ice influence on the frequent Eurasian cold winters in past decades. Nat. Geosci. 7, 869–873 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Inoue, J., Hori, M. E. & Takaya, K. The role of Barents Sea ice in the wintertime cyclone track and emergence of a warm-Arctic cold-Siberian anomaly. J. Clim. 25, 2561–2568 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Tang, Q., Zhang, X., Yang, X. & Francis, J. A. Cold winter extremes in northern continents linked to Arctic sea ice loss. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014036 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kim, J.-S. et al. Reduced North American terrestrial primary productivity linked to anomalous Arctic warming. Nat. Geosci. 10, 572–576 (2017).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cohen, J., Pfeiffer, K. & Francis, J. A. Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States. Nat. Commun. 9, 869 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. McCusker, K. E., Fyfe, J. C. & Sigmond, M. Twenty-five winters of unexpected Eurasian cooling unlikely due to Arctic sea-ice loss. Nat. Geosci. 9, 838–842 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Sun, L., Perlwitz, J. & Hoerling, M. What caused the recent “Warm Arctic, Cold Continents” trend pattern in winter temperatures? Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 5345–5352 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Collow, T. W., Wang, W. & Kumar, A. Simulations of Eurasian winter temperature trends in coupled and uncoupled CFSv2. Adv. Atmos. Sci. 35, 14–26 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Ogawa, F. et al. Evaluating impacts of recent Arctic sea ice loss on the Northern Hemisphere winter climate change. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 3255–3263 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Koenigk, T. et al. Impact of Arctic sea ice variations on winter temperature anomalies in northern hemispheric land areas. Clim. Dynam. 52, 3111–3137 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Honda, M., Inoue, J. & Yamane, S. Influence of low Arctic sea‐ice minima on anomalously cold Eurasian winters. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L08707 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Mori, M., Kosaka, Y., Watanabe, M., Nakamura, H. & Kimoto, M. A reconciled estimate of the influence of Arctic sea-ice loss on recent Eurasian cooling. Nat. Clim. Change 9, 123–129 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Deser, C., Walsh, J. E. & Timlin, M. S. Arctic sea ice variability in the context of recent atmospheric circulation trends. J. Clim. 13, 617–633 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Park, H.-S., Lee, S., Son, S.-W., Feldstein, S. B. & Kosaka, Y. The impact of poleward moisture and sensible heat flux on Arctic winter sea ice variability. J. Clim. 28, 5030–5040 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Woods, C. & Caballero, R. The role of moist intrusions in winter Arctic warming and sea ice decline. J. Clim. 29, 4473–4485 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Lee, S., Gong, T., Feldstein, S. B., Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. Revisiting the cause of the 1989–2009 Arctic surface warming using the surface energy budget: downward infrared radiation dominates the surface fluxes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 10654–10661 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Luo, B., Luo, D., Wu, L., Zhong, L. & Simmonds, I. Atmospheric circulation patterns which promote winter Arctic sea ice decline. Environ. Res. Lett. 12, 054017 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Sorokina, S. A., Li, C., Wettstein, J. J. & Kvamstø, N. G. Observed atmospheric coupling between Barents Sea ice and the warm-Arctic cold-Siberian anomaly pattern. J. Clim. 29, 495–511 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Jakobson, E. et al. Validation of atmospheric reanalyses over the central Arctic Ocean. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10802 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Dee, D. P. et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 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 

  30. Hazeleger, W. et al. EC-Earth V2.2: description and validation of a new seamless earth system prediction model. Clim. Dynam. 39, 2611–2629 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Blackport, R. & Kushner, P. J. Isolating the atmospheric circulation response to Arctic sea ice loss in the coupled climate system. J. Clim. 30, 2163–2185 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Blackport, R. & Kushner, P. J. The transient and equilibrium climate response to rapid summertime sea ice loss in CCSM4. J. Clim. 29, 401–417 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. McCusker, K. E. et al. Remarkable separability of circulation response to Arctic sea ice loss and greenhouse gas forcing. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 7955–7964 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Oudar, T. et al. Respective roles of direct GHG radiative forcing and induced Arctic sea ice loss on the Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation. Clim. Dynam. 49, 3693–3713 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Peings, Y. & Magnusdottir, G. Response of the wintertime Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation to current and projected Arctic sea ice decline: a numerical study with CAM5. J. Clim. 27, 244–264 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 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 

  37. Screen, J. A. et al. Consistency and discrepancy in the atmospheric response to Arctic sea-ice loss across climate models. Nat. Geosci. 11, 155–163 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Screen, J. A. Simulated atmospheric response to regional and pan-Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 30, 3945–3962 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Woods, C., Caballero, R. & Svensson, G. Large-scale circulation associated with moisture intrusions into the Arctic during winter. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 4717–4721 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Sato, K., Inoue, J. & Watanabe, M. Influence of the Gulf Stream on the Barents Sea ice retreat and Eurasian coldness during early winter. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 084009 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Sun, L., Deser, C. & Tomas, R. A. Mechanisms of stratospheric and tropospheric circulation response to projected Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 28, 7824–7845 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kim, B.-M. et al. Weakening of the stratospheric polar vortex by Arctic sea-ice loss. Nat. Commun. 5, 4646 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Zhang, P., Wu, Y. & Smith, K. L. Prolonged effect of the stratospheric pathway in linking Barents–Kara Sea sea ice variability to the midlatitude circulation in a simplified model. Clim. Dynam. 50, 527–539 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Nakamura, T. et al. The stratospheric pathway for Arctic impacts on midlatitude climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 3494–3501 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Zhang, P. et al. A stratospheric pathway linking a colder Siberia to Barents–Kara Sea sea ice loss. Sci. Adv. 4, eaat6025 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Peings, Y. Ural blocking as a driver of early-winter stratospheric warmings. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 5460–5468 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  47. Screen, J. A. The missing Northern European winter cooling response to Arctic sea ice loss. Nat. Commun. 8, 14603 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Cavalieri, D. J., Parkinson, C. L., Gloersen, P. & Zwally, H. J. Sea Ice Concentrations from Nimbus-7 SMMR and DMSP SSM/I-SSMIS Passive Microwave Data, Version 1 (NSIDC, 1996); https://doi.org/10.5067/8GQ8LZQVL0VL

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the ECMWF for making the ERA-Interim reanalysis data available for use. The HadGEM2 model simulations were performed on the ARCHER UK national computing service. R.Blackport and J.A.S. were supported by Natural Environment Research Council grant number NE/P006760/1. For the creation of maps included in all figures, the authors used Python package ‘basemap’ (https://matplotlib.org/basemap/), copyright Jeffrey Whitaker 2011.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

R.Blackport conceived the study, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. J.A.S. provided guidance on writing the manuscript and interpreting the results. R.Blackport and K.W. performed the climate model simulations. All authors contributed to the design of model simulations and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Russell Blackport.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks John Fyfe, Qiuhong Tang and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–12, Notes 1–5 and references.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Blackport, R., Screen, J.A., van der Wiel, K. et al. Minimal influence of reduced Arctic sea ice on coincident cold winters in mid-latitudes. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 697–704 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0551-4

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0551-4

Further reading

Search

Quick links

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