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

Abstract

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.

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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.

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Data availability

The CMIP6 outputs are available from the Earth System Grid Federation (ESGF) portal at https://esgf-node.llnl.gov/search/cmip6/. The observation datasets of surface temperature are available at https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcrut5/ for HadCRUT, https://berkeleyearth.org/data/ for BEST and https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/ for GISTEMP. The ERA5 reanalysis data are available from the Copernicus data store at https://cds.climate.copernicus.eu/cdsapp#!/dataset/reanalysis-era5-complete?tab=overview. The outputs of the CESM2 experiment are available from the NCAR Climate Data Gateway at https://www.earthsystemgrid.org/dataset/ucar.cgd.cesm2.pacific.pacemaker.html for PPE and from the IBS openDAP server at https://climatedata.ibs.re.kr/data/cesm2-lens for the large-ensemble experiment for LE. The source data underlying the main figures are available at https://zenodo.org/records/10807270 (ref. 47). Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The script for analyses and generating the main figures is available at https://zenodo.org/records/10807270.

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Acknowledgements

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 (https://esgf-node.llnl.gov/search/cmip6/).

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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.

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Correspondence to Wenyu Zhou.

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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.

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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.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-024-01441-1

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