Perspective | Published:

Consistency and discrepancy in the atmospheric response to Arctic sea-ice loss across climate models


The decline of Arctic sea ice is an integral part of anthropogenic climate change. Sea-ice loss is already having a significant impact on Arctic communities and ecosystems. Its role as a cause of climate changes outside of the Arctic has also attracted much scientific interest. Evidence is mounting that Arctic sea-ice loss can affect weather and climate throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The remote impacts of Arctic sea-ice loss can only be properly represented using models that simulate interactions among the ocean, sea ice, land and atmosphere. A synthesis of six such experiments with different models shows consistent hemispheric-wide atmospheric warming, strongest in the mid-to-high-latitude lower troposphere; an intensification of the wintertime Aleutian Low and, in most cases, the Siberian High; a weakening of the Icelandic Low; and a reduction in strength and southward shift of the mid-latitude westerly winds in winter. The atmospheric circulation response seems to be sensitive to the magnitude and geographic pattern of sea-ice loss and, in some cases, to the background climate state. However, it is unclear whether current-generation climate models respond too weakly to sea-ice change. We advocate for coordinated experiments that use different models and observational constraints to quantify the climate response to Arctic sea-ice loss.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

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


  1. 1.

    Perovich, D. et al. Sea ice cover. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 98, S131–S133 (2017).

  2. 2.

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

  3. 3.

    Notz, D. & Stroeve, J. Observed Arctic sea-ice loss directly follow anthropogenic CO2 emission. Science 354, 747–750 (2016).

  4. 4.

    Post, E. et al. Ecological consequences of sea-ice decline. Science 341, 519–524 (2013).

  5. 5.

    Meier, W. N. et al. Arctic sea ice in transformation: a review of recent observed changes and impacts on biology and human activity. Rev. Geophys. 52, 185–217 (2014).

  6. 6.

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

  7. 7.

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

  8. 8.

    Vihma, T. Effects of Arctic sea ice decline on weather and climate: a review. Surv. Geophys. 35, 1175–1214 (2014).

  9. 9.

    Overland, J. E. et al. The melting Arctic and midlatitude weather patterns: are they connected? J. Clim. 28, 7917–7932 (2015).

  10. 10.

    Barnes, E. A. & Screen, J. A. The impact of Arctic warming on the midlatitude jet-stream: Can it? Has it? Will it? WIREs Clim. Chang. 6, 277–286 (2015).

  11. 11.

    Gramling, C. Arctic impact. Science 347, 818–821 (2015).

  12. 12.

    Shepherd, T. G. Effects of a warming Arctic. Science 353, 989–990 (2016).

  13. 13.

    Screen, J. A. Far-flung effects of Arctic warming. Nat. Geosci. 10, 253–254 (2017).

  14. 14.

    Sévellec, F., Fedorov, A. V. & Liu, W. Arctic sea-ice decline weakens the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 7, 604–610 (2017).

  15. 15.

    Deser, C., Tomas, R. A. & Sun, L. The role of ocean–atmosphere coupling in the zonal-mean atmospheric response to Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 28, 2168–2186 (2015).

  16. 16.

    Smith, D. M. et al. Atmospheric response to Arctic and Antarctic sea ice: the importance of ocean–atmosphere coupling and the background state. J. Clim. 30, 4547–4565 (2017).

  17. 17.

    Mori, M. et al. Robust arctic sea ice influence on the frequent Eurasian cold winters in past decades. Nat. Geosci. 7, 869–873 (2014).

  18. 18.

    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).

  19. 19.

    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).

  20. 20.

    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).

  21. 21.

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

  22. 22.

    Tomas, R. A., Deser, C. & Sun, L. The role of ocean heat transport in the global climate response to projected Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 29, 6841–6859 (2016).

  23. 23.

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

  24. 24.

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

  25. 25.

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

  26. 26.

    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).

  27. 27.

    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).

  28. 28.

    Zhang, X., Sorteberg, A., Zhang, J., Gerdes, R. & Comiso, J. C. Recent radical shifts of the atmospheric circulations and rapid changes in the Arctic climate system. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22701 (2008).

  29. 29.

    Francis, J. A. & Vavrus, S. J. Evidence for a wavier jet stream in response to rapid Arctic warming. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 014005 (2015).

  30. 30.

    Magnusdottir, G., Deser, C. & Saravanan, R. The effects of North Atlantic SST and sea ice anomalies on the winter circulation in CCM3. Part I: Main features and storm track characteristics of the response. J. Clim. 17, 857–876 (2004).

  31. 31.

    Seierstad, I. & Bader, J. Impact of a projected future Arctic sea ice reduction on extratropical storminess and the NAO. Clim. Dyn. 33, 937–943 (2009).

  32. 32.

    Screen, J. A., Deser, C., Simmonds, I. & Tomas, R. Atmospheric impacts of Arctic sea ice loss, 1979–2009: separating forced change from atmospheric internal variability. Clim. Dyn. 43, 333–344 (2014).

  33. 33.

    Cassano, E. N., Cassano, J. J., Higgins, M. E. & Serreze, M. C. Atmospheric impacts of an Arctic sea ice minimum as seen in the Community Atmosphere Model. Int. J. Climatol. 34, 766–779 (2014).

  34. 34.

    Singarayer, J., Bamber, J. & Valdes, P. Twenty-first-century climate impacts from a declining Arctic sea ice cover. J. Clim. 19, 1109–1125 (2006).

  35. 35.

    Strey, S., Chapman, W. & Walsh, J. The 2007 sea ice minimum: impacts on the Northern Hemisphere atmosphere in late autumn and early winter. J. Geophys. Res. 115, D23103 (2010).

  36. 36.

    Petoukhov, V. & Semenov, V. A. A link between reduced Barents–Kara sea ice and cold winter extremes over northern continents. J. Geophys. Res. 115, D21111 (2010).

  37. 37.

    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).

  38. 38.

    Semenov, V. A. & Latif, M. Nonlinear winter atmospheric circulation response to Arctic sea ice concentration anomalies for different periods during 1966–2012. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 5 (2015).

  39. 39.

    Chen, H. W., Zhang, F. & Alley, R. B. The robustness of midlatitude weather pattern changes due to Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 29, 7831–7849 (2016).

  40. 40.

    Overland, J. E. et al. Nonlinear response of mid-latitude weather to the changing Arctic. Nat. Clim. Chang. 6, 992–999 (2016).

  41. 41.

    Robson, J., Hodson, D., Hawkins, E. & Sutton, R. Atlantic overturning in decline? Nat. Geosci. 7, 2–3 (2014).

  42. 42.

    Rahmstorf, S. et al. Exceptional twentieth-century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean Overturning Circulation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 5, 475–480 (2015).

  43. 43.

    Jackson, L. C., Peterson, K. A., Roberts, C. D. & Wood, R. A. Recent slowing of Atlantic Overturning Circulation as a recovery from earlier strengthening. Nat. Geosci. 9, 518–522 (2016).

  44. 44.

    Cheng, W., Chiang, J. C. H. & Zhang, D. Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) in CMIP5 models: RCP and historical simulations. Clim. Dyn. 26, 7187–7197 (2013).

  45. 45.

    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).

  46. 46.

    Pedersen, R. A., Cvijanovic, I., Langen, P. L. & Vinther, B. M. The impact of regional Arctic sea ice loss on atmospheric circulation and the NAO. J. Clim. 29, 889–902 (2016).

  47. 47.

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

  48. 48.

    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. Dyn. (2017).

  49. 49.

    Balmaseda, M. A., Ferranti, L., Moteni, F. & Palmer, T. N. Impact of 2007 and 2008 Arctic ice anomalies on the atmospheric circulation: implications for long-range predictions. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 136, 1655–1664 (2010).

  50. 50.

    Screen, J. A. & Francis, J. A. Contribution of sea ice loss to Arctic amplification is regulated by Pacific Ocean decadal variability. Nat. Clim. Chang. 6, 856–860 (2016).

  51. 51.

    Osborne, J. M., Screen, J. A. & Collins, M. Ocean–atmospheric state dependence of the atmospheric response to Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 30, 1537–1552 (2017).

  52. 52.

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

  53. 53.

    Wu, Y. & Smith, K. L. Response of Northern Hemisphere midlatitude circulation to Arctic amplification in a simple atmospheric general circulation model. J. Clim. 29, 2041–2058 (2016).

  54. 54.

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

  55. 55.

    Smith, K. L., Fletcher, C. G. & Kushner, P. J. The role of linear interference in the annular mode response to extratropical surface forcing. J. Clim. 23, 6036–6050 (2010).

  56. 56.

    Smith, K. L. & Kushner, P. J. Linear interference and the initiation of extratropical stratosphere–troposphere interactions. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D13107 (2012).

  57. 57.

    Suo, L., Gao, Y., Guo, D., Liu, J., Wang, H. & Johannessen, O. M. Atmospheric response to the autumn sea ice free Arctic and its detectability. Clim. Dyn. 46, 2051–2066 (2016).

  58. 58.

    Eade, R. et al. Do seasonal-to-decadal climate predictions underestimate the predictability of the real world? Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 5620–5628 (2014).

  59. 59.

    Scaife, A. A. et al. Skilful long range prediction of European and North American winters. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 2514–2519 (2014).

  60. 60.

    Dunstone, N. et al. Skilful predictions of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation one year ahead. Nat. Geosci. 9, 809–814 (2016).

  61. 61.

    Garcia-Serrano, J., Frankignoul, C., Gastineau, G. & de la Camara, A. On the predictability of the winter Euro-Atlantic climate: lagged influence of autumn Arctic sea ice. J. Clim. 28, 5195–5216 (2015).

  62. 62.

    Wang, L., Ting, M. & Kushner, P. J. A robust empirical seasonal prediction of the winter NAO and surface climate. Sci. Rep. 7, 279 (2017).

  63. 63.

    Cattiaux, J. & Cassou, C. Opposite CMIP3/CMIP5 trends in the wintertime Northern Annular Mode explained by combined local sea ice and remote tropical influences. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3682–3687 (2013).

  64. 64.

    Harvey, B. J., Shaffrey, L. C. & Woollings, T. J. Equator-to-pole temperature differences and the extra-tropical storm track responses of the CMIP5 climate models. Clim. Dyn. 43, 1171–1182 (2014).

  65. 65.

    Harvey, B. J., Shaffrey, L. C. & Woollings, T. J. Deconstructing the climate change response of the Northern Hemisphere wintertime storm tracks. Clim. Dyn. 45, 2847–2860 (2015).

  66. 66.

    Barnes, E. A. & Polvani, L. M. CMIP5 projections of Arctic amplification, of the North American/North Atlantic circulation, and of their relationship. J. Clim. 28, 5254–5271 (2015).

  67. 67.

    Yim, B. Y., Min, H. S. & Kug, J. S. Inter-model diversity in jet stream changes and its relation to Arctic climate in CMIP5. Clim. Dyn. 47, 235–248 (2016).

  68. 68.

    Hall, A. & Qu, X. Using the current seasonal cycle to constrain the snow albedo feedback in future climate change. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L03502 (2006).

  69. 69.

    Bracegirdle, T. J. & Stephenson, D. B. On the robustness of emergent constraints used in multimodel climate change projections of Arctic warming. J. Clim. 26, 669–678 (2013).

  70. 70.

    Klein, S. A. & Hall, A. Emergent constraints for cloud feedbacks. Curr. Clim. Chang. Rep. 4, 276–287 (2015).

  71. 71.

    Borodina, A., Fischer, E. M. & Knutti, R. Emergent constraints in climate projections: a case study of changes in high-latitude temperature variability. J. Clim. 30, 3655–3670 (2017).

  72. 72.

    Screen, J. A. & Williamson, D. Ice-free Arctic at 1.5 °C? Nat. Clim. Chang. 7, 230–231 (2017).

  73. 73.

    Zou, Y., Wang, Y., Zhang, Y. & Koo, J.-H. Arctic sea ice, Eurasia snow, and extreme winter haze in China. Sci. Adv. 3, e1602751 (2017).

  74. 74.

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

  75. 75.

    Greene, C. H., Francis, J. A. & Monger, B. C. Superstorm Sandy: a series of unfortunate events? Oceanography 26, 8–9 (2013).

  76. 76.

    Kretschmer, M., Coumou, D., Donges, J. F. & Runge, J. Using causal effect networks to analyze different Arctic drivers of midlatitude winter circulation. J. Clim. 29, 4069–4081 (2016).

  77. 77.

    Petrie, R. E., Shaffrey, L. C. & Sutton, R. T. Atmospheric impact of Arctic sea ice loss in a coupled ocean–atmosphere simulation. J. Clim. 28, 9066–9622 (2015).

  78. 78.

    Semmler, T. et al. Seasonal atmospheric responses to reduced Arctic sea ice in an ensemble of coupled model simulations. J. Clim. 29, 5893–5913 (2016).

  79. 79.

    Cvijanovic, I. & Caldeira, K. Atmospheric impacts of sea ice decline in CO2 induced global warming. Clim. Dyn. 44, 1173–1186 (2015).

  80. 80.

    Dammann, D. O., Bhatt, U. S., Langen, P. L., Kreiger, J. R. & Zhang, X. Impact of daily Arctic sea ice variability in CAM3.0 during fall and winter. J. Clim. 26, 1939–1955 (2013).

  81. 81.

    Gerdes, R. Atmospheric response to changes in Arctic sea ice thickness. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L18709 (2006).

  82. 82.

    Lang, A., Yang, S. & Kaas, E. Sea ice thickness and recent Arctic warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 409–418 (2017).

  83. 83.

    Steele, M., Ermold, W. & Zhang, J. Arctic Ocean surface warming trends over the past 100 years. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L02614 (2008).

  84. 84.

    Screen, J. A., Simmonds, I., Deser, C. & Tomas, R. The atmospheric response to three decades of observed Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 26, 1230–1248 (2013).

  85. 85.

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

Download references


The authors thank the Aspen Global Change Institute, with the support of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Heising Simons Foundation, for organizing a workshop in Aspen in June 2017; and the US Climate Variability and Predictability Program for organizing a workshop in Washington DC in February 2017. We also thank the participants at these workshops for engaging in discussion that helped shape this Perspective. J.A.S. and R.B. were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/P006760/1). C.D. acknowledges the National Science Foundation (NSF), which sponsors the National Center for Atmospheric Research. D.M.S. was supported by the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101) and the APPLICATE project, which is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme. X.Z. was supported by the NSF (ARC#1023592). P.J.K. and K.E.M. were supported by the Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution Network, which is funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. T.O. was funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada (GCXE17S038). L.S. was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office.

Author information

J.A.S., C.D, D.M.S. and X.Z jointly conceived the article. D.M.S., R.B., T.O., K.E.M. and L.S. provided data for the figures, which were created by J.A.S. The writing was led by J.A.S. with input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to James A. Screen.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Further reading

Fig. 1: Effects of Arctic sea-ice loss on winter air temperature.
Fig. 2: Effects of Arctic sea ice loss on winter sea-level pressure.
Fig. 3: Effects of Arctic sea-ice loss on winter atmospheric circulation.