Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting 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.

  • Article
  • Published:

Steady threefold Arctic amplification of externally forced warming masked by natural variability


Arctic amplification—the amplified surface warming in the Arctic relative to the globe—is a robust feature of climate change. However, there is a considerable spread in the reported magnitude of Arctic amplification. Whereas earlier observations and model simulations suggested that the Arctic has been warming at a rate two to three times as the globe, a recent study reports an alarming amplification factor of four since 1979. Here we reconcile this discrepancy by revealing that natural variability has substantially modulated the degree of Arctic amplification. On the basis of three observational datasets and 34 models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, we show that the observed temperature evolutions are distinct from the model-simulated forced responses and that the differences are explained by modes of natural variability. Specifically, the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation decelerated global warming after 2000, whereas an Arctic internal mode amplified Arctic warming after 2005, both contributing positively to the recent increase of Arctic amplification to fourfold. By estimating and removing the effect of natural variability on the observed temperature changes, we reveal that the externally forced Arctic amplification has consistently remained close to three throughout the historical period.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: The widely varying AA in historical observations and its distinction from the nearly constant forced AA in MME.
Fig. 2: Tropical Pacific variability explains the difference in global mean temperature evolutions between observations and MME.
Fig. 3: Internal Arctic mode explains the difference in Arctic mean temperature evolutions between observations and MME.
Fig. 4: The AM and its associated field anomalies.
Fig. 5: Degree of the externally forced AA revealed by removing the effect of natural variability.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The CMIP6 outputs are available from the Earth System Grid Federation (ESGF) portal at The observation datasets of surface temperature are available at for HadCRUT, for BEST and for GISTEMP. The ERA5 reanalysis data are available from the Copernicus data store at!/dataset/reanalysis-era5-complete?tab=overview. The outputs of the CESM2 experiment are available from the NCAR Climate Data Gateway at for PPE and from the IBS openDAP server at for the large-ensemble experiment for LE. The source data underlying the main figures are available at (ref. 47). Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The script for analyses and generating the main figures is available at


  1. CAPE-Last Interglacial Project Members. Last interglacial Arctic warmth confirms polar amplification of climate change. Quat. Sci. Rev. 25, 1383–1400 (2006).

  2. Park, H.-S., Kim, S.-J., Stewart, A. L., Son, S.-W. & Seo, K.-H. Mid-Holocene Northern Hemisphere warming driven by Arctic amplification. Sci. Adv. 5, eaax8203 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Chapman, W. L. & Walsh, J. E. Recent variations of sea ice and air temperature in high latitudes. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 74, 33–48 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Serreze, M. C., Barrett, A. P., Stroeve, J. C., Kindig, D. N. & Holland, M. M. The emergence of surface-based Arctic amplification. Cryosphere 3, 11–19 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. England, M. R., Eisenman, I., Lutsko, N. J. & Wagner, T. J. W. The recent emergence of Arctic amplification. Geophys. Res. Lett. 48, e2021GL094086 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Manabe, S. & Stouffer, R. J. Sensitivity of a global climate model to an increase of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans 85, 5529–5554 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Holland, M. M. & Bitz, C. M. Polar amplification of climate change in coupled models. Clim. Dyn. 21, 221–232 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Holland, M. M. & Landrum, L. The emergence and transient nature of Arctic amplification in coupled climate models. Front. Earth Sci. (2021).

  9. 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 

  10. Wassmann, P., Duarte, C. M., Agustí, S. & Sejr, M. K. Footprints of climate change in the Arctic marine ecosystem. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 1235–1249 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Screen, J. A. Arctic amplification decreases temperature variance in northern mid- to high-latitudes. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 577–582 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 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 

  13. 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).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. England, M. R., Polvani, L. M., Sun, L. & Deser, C. Tropical climate responses to projected Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice loss. Nat. Geosci. 13, 275–281 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Smith, D. M. et al. Robust but weak winter atmospheric circulation response to future Arctic sea ice loss. Nat. Commun. 13, 727 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. IPCC Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report (eds Lee, H. & Romero, J.) Ch. 12 (IPCC, 2023);

  17. Arctic Climate Change Update 2021: Key Trends and Impacts. Summary for Policy-makers (AMAP, 2021);

  18. Rantanen, M. et al. The Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the globe since 1979.Commun. Earth Environ. 3, 168 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Chylek, P. et al. Annual mean Arctic amplification 1970–2020: observed and simulated by CMIP6 climate models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 49, e2022GL099371 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Sweeney, A. J., Fu, Q., Po-Chedley, S., Wang, H. & Wang, M. Internal variability increased Arctic amplification during 1980–2022. Geophys. Res. Lett. 50, e2023GL106060 (2023).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Chylek, P. et al. High values of the Arctic amplification in the early decades of the 21st century: causes of discrepancy by CMIP6 models between observation and simulation. J. Geophys. Res.: Atmos. 128, e2023JD039269 (2023).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Meehl, G. A., Hu, A., Arblaster, J. M., Fasullo, J. & Trenberth, K. E. Externally forced and internally generated decadal climate variability associated with the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. J. Clim. 26, 7298–7310 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Dong, B. & Dai, A. The influence of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation on temperature and precipitation over the globe. Clim. Dyn. 45, 2667–2681 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Yulaeva, E. & Wallace, J. M. The signature of ENSO in global temperature and precipitation fields derived from the microwave sounding unit. J. Clim. 7, 1719–1736 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kosaka, Y. & Xie, S.-P. Recent global-warming hiatus tied to equatorial Pacific surface cooling. Nature 501, 403–407 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Dai, A., Fyfe, J. C., Xie, S.-P. & Dai, X. Decadal modulation of global surface temperature by internal climate variability. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 555–559 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Mahajan, S., Zhang, R. & Delworth, T. L. Impact of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) on Arctic surface air temperature and sea ice variability. J. Clim. 24, 6573–6581 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Årthun, M., Eldevik, T., Smedsrud, L. H., Skagseth, Ø. & Ingvaldsen, R. B. Quantifying the Influence of Atlantic heat on Barents Sea ice variability and retreat. J. Clim. 25, 4736–4743 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 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 

  30. Screen, J. A. & Deser, C. Pacific Ocean variability influences the time of emergence of a seasonally ice‐free Arctic Ocean. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 2222–2231 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Warner, J. L., Screen, J. A. & Scaife, A. A. Links between Barents–Kara sea ice and the extratropical atmospheric circulation explained by internal variability and tropical forcing. Geophys. Res. Lett. 47, e2019GL085679 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Jeong, H., Park, H.-S., Stuecker, M. F. & Yeh, S.-W. Distinct impacts of major El Niño events on Arctic temperatures due to differences in eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures. Sci. Adv. 8, eabl8278 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 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 

  34. Ding, Q. et al. Fingerprints of internal drivers of Arctic sea ice loss in observations and model simulations. Nat. Geosci. 12, 28–33 (2019).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Liu, Z. et al. Atmospheric forcing dominates winter Barents–Kara sea ice variability on interannual to decadal time scales. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 119, e2120770119 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Davy, R. & Griewank, P. Arctic amplification has already peaked. Environ. Res. Lett. 18, 084003 (2023).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Morice, C. P. et al. An updated assessment of near-surface temperature change from 1850: the HadCRUT5 data set. J. Geophys. Res.: Atmos. 126, e2019JD032361 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Lenssen, N. J. L. et al. Improvements in the GISTEMP uncertainty model. J. Geophys. Res.: Atmos. 124, 6307–6326 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Rohde, R. A. & Hausfather, Z. The Berkeley Earth land/ocean temperature record. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 12, 3469–3479 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Eyring, V. et al. Overview of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) experimental design and organization. Geosci. Model Dev. 9, 1937–1958 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. England, M. R. Are multi-decadal fluctuations in Arctic and Antarctic surface temperatures a forced response to Anthropogenic emissions or part of internal climate variability? Geophys. Res. Lett. 48, e2020GL090631 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Hersbach, H. et al. The ERA5 global reanalysis. Q. J. R. Meteorolog. Soc. 146, 1999–2049 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Hahn, L. C., Armour, K. C., Zelinka, M. D., Bitz, C. M. & Donohoe, A. Contributions to polar amplification in CMIP5 and CMIP6 models. Front. Earth Sci. (2021).

  44. Rodgers, K. B. et al. Ubiquity of human-induced changes in climate variability. Earth Syst. Dyn. 12, 1393–1411 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Kay, J. E. et al. The Community Earth System Model (CESM) large ensemble project: a community resource for studying climate change in the presence of internal climate variability. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 96, 1333–1349 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Rosenbloom, N. CESM2 Pacific Pacemaker Ensemble. UCAR/NCAR–CISL–CDP (2022).

  47. Zhou, W. Steady threefold Arctic amplification of externally forced warming masked by natural variability. Zenodo (2024).

Download references


This study was supported by Office of Science, US Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research as part of the Regional and Global Model Analysis programme area. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is operated for DOE by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RLO1830. We acknowledge the WCRP Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model outputs. This research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract number DE-AC02-05CH1123. We also would like to acknowledge the data access and computing support provided by the NCAR CMIP Analysis Platform (

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



W.Z. designed the research and conducted the analysis. L.R.L. and J.L. contributed to improving the analyses and interpretation. W.Z. drafted the manuscript, and all the authors edited the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wenyu Zhou.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Geoscience thanks Mika Rantanen, Mark England and Mark Serreze for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Tom Richardson, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

Additional information

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

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1 and Figs. 1–12.

Source data

Source Data Figs. 1–5

Time series of the observed Arctic and global mean temperature, the MME Arctic and global mean temperature, the IPO index, the AM index and the influences of tropical Pacific variability on the Arctic and global mean temperature.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhou, W., Leung, L.R. & Lu, J. Steady threefold Arctic amplification of externally forced warming masked by natural variability. Nat. Geosci. 17, 508–515 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


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