Little influence of Arctic amplification on mid-latitude climate

Abstract

Observations1,2,3 and model simulations3,4 show enhanced warming in the Arctic under increasing greenhouse gases, a phenomenon known as the Arctic amplification (AA)5, that is likely caused by sea-ice loss1,3. AA reduces meridional temperature gradients linked to circulation, thus mid-latitude weather and climate changes have been attributed to AA, often on the basis of regression analysis and atmospheric simulations6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19. However, other modelling studies20,21,22 show only a weak link. This inconsistency may result from deficiencies in separating the effects of AA from those of natural variability or background warming. Here, using coupled model simulations with and without AA, we show that cold-season precipitation, snowfall and circulation changes over northern mid-latitudes come mostly from background warming. AA and sea-ice loss increase precipitation and snowfall above ~60° N and reduce meridional temperature gradients above ~45° N in the lower–mid troposphere. However, minimal impact on the mean climate is seen below ~60° N, with weak reduction in zonal wind over 50°–70° N and 150–700 hPa, mainly over the North Atlantic and northern central Asia. These results suggest that the climatic impacts of AA are probably small outside the high latitudes, thus caution is needed in attributing mid-latitude changes to AA and sea-ice loss on the basis of statistical analyses that cannot distinguish the impact of AA from other correlated changes.

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Fig. 1: Community Earth System Model version 1.2.1 (CESM1) simulated October–March mean changes over 40°–90° N around the time of the second CO2 doubling.
Fig. 2: CESM1-simualted climatology and changes in October–March mean SLP over 20°–90° N.
Fig. 3: CESM1-simualted changes around the time of the second CO2 doubling in October–March zonal-mean air temperature and its meridional gradient.
Fig. 4: CESM1-simualted climatology and changes averaged over years 131–150 in October–March zonal-mean U.
Fig. 5: Differences in lower-tropospheric temperature and tropospheric U between high and mid-latitudes and spatial patterns of U changes around 266 hPa.

Data availability

The model data used in this study are available from the authors upon request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Liu for constructive discussions regarding the design and impact of the FixedIce run. M.S. was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Strategic Priority Research Program (grant no. XDA19070403). A.D. was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant nos. AGS-1353740 and OISE-1743738), the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science (grant no. DE-SC0012602) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (grant nos. NA15OAR4310086 and NA18OAR4310425).

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Contributions

A.D. designed the research and performed the numerical experiments and analyses. M.S. helped make the necessary code changes for the FixedIce run.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aiguo Dai.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Patrick Taylor, Robert Tomas 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.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 CESM1-somulated Arctic sea-ice, temperature and flux changes.

(a) Eleven-year-moving averaged time series of the changes (relative to the control-run climatology) in Arctic (67o–90oN, red) and global-mean (magenta) annual surface air temperature (Tas), Arctic-minus-global annual Tas difference (black), and Arctic annual sea-ice concentration (SIC, blue) from the 1% CO2 run (solid lines) and FixedIce run (dashed lines). (b, c) CESM1-simulated changes (relative to the control-run climatology) averaged over years 131–150 as a function of month in Arctic sea-ice concentration (SIC, in % area, gray bars) and surface net shortwave (SW) radiation (red), upward longwave (LW) radiation (magenta), and sensible plus latent heat fluxes (blue) from the (b) 1% CO2 run and (c) FixedIce run.

Extended Data Fig. 2 CESM1-simualted October-March mean changes over 40o–90oN around the time of the 1st CO2 doubling (that is, for years 61–80).

Same as Fig. 1 but at the time of the 1st CO2 doubling (that is, for year 61–80 mean).

Extended Data Fig. 3 CESM1-simualted October-March mean changes over 40o–90oN around the time of the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 201–220).

Same as Fig. 1 but around the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for year 201–220 mean).

Extended Data Fig. 4 CESM1-simualted changes in zonal-mean temperature around the time of the 1st CO2 doubling (that is, for years 61–80).

Same as Fig. 3 but around the time of the 1st CO2 doubling (that is, for years 61–80).

Extended Data Fig. 5 CESM1-simualted changes in zonal-mean temperature around the time of the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 201–220).

Same as Fig. 3 but around the time of the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 201–220).

Extended Data Fig. 6 CESM1-simulated climatology (contours) and changes (color) in October-March zonal-mean U wind around the 1st CO2 doubling (that is, for years 61–80).

Same as Fig. 4 but around the time of the 1st CO2 doubling (that is, for years 61–80).

Extended Data Fig. 7 CESM1-simulated climatology (contours) and changes (color) in October-March zonal-mean U wind around the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 201–220).

Same as Fig. 4 but around the time of the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 201–220).

Extended Data Fig. 8 CESM1-simulated climatology (contours) and changes (color) in October-March zonal-mean V wind around the 2nd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 131–150).

CESM1-simualted climatology (contours, in 0.1 m/s) and changes (color, in 0.1 m/s, relative the control-run climatology) averaged over years 131–150 of October-March zonal-mean meridional wind from the (a) 1% CO2 run and (b) FixedIce run. Panel c is the panel a minus b difference. Significant wind changes in (a, b) or differences in (c) at the 5% level are marked by the black dots. The contours in (c) are for the control-run climatology of the meridional wind. The changes around the 1st CO2 doubling (for years 61–80) have similar patterns with smaller magnitudes.

Extended Data Fig. 9 CESM1-simulated climatology (contours) and changes (color) in October-March zonal-mean V wind around the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 201–220).

Same as Extended Data Fig. 8, but for changes around the time of the 3rd CO2 doubling (that is, for years 201–220).

Extended Data Fig. 10 Schematic diagram showing how the surface fluxes are applied in the standard 1%CO2 run (top) and the FixedIce run (bottom) over Arctic sea-ice covered areas.

Schematic diagram showing how the surface fluxes are applied in the standard 1%CO2 run (top) and the FixedIce run (bottom) over Arctic sea-ice covered areas. In the FixedIce run (with the same 1%-per-year increase in atmospheric CO2), sea-ice loss (outlined by the dashed lines in the lower-right panel) is small, and the fluxes from the ice model are applied to the same ice fraction as in year 1 (that is, they are extended to the volume outlined by the dashed lines in the lower-right panel), and the atmosphere and ocean components only see a fixed ice cover (with seasonal cycle). However, the ice model still dynamically calculates the ice fraction and the fluxes over sea ice. The ice model does not see this artificial ice fraction change but it feels the changed surface fluxes and near-surface states resulting from this change, and this leads to much slower ice melting and greatly reduced Arctic amplification in the FixedIce run than in the standard 1%CO2 run. The main ice-atmosphere and water-atmosphere fluxes include sensible (SH) and latent (LH) heat fluxes, longwave (LW) and shortwave (not shown) radiative fluxes, and wind stress fluxes (not shown). The ice-ocean fluxes include heat (H), salt (S), freshwater (W), and wind stress (not shown) fluxes.

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Dai, A., Song, M. Little influence of Arctic amplification on mid-latitude climate. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 231–237 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0694-3

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