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

Abstract

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.

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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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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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.

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Correspondence to James A. Screen.

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Screen, J.A., Deser, C., Smith, D.M. et al. Consistency and discrepancy in the atmospheric response to Arctic sea-ice loss across climate models. Nature Geosci 11, 155–163 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0059-y

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