Can North Atlantic Sea Ice Anomalies Account for Dansgaard–Oeschger Climate Signals?

Camille Li Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, and Department of Earth Science, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

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David S. Battisti Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, and Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

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Cecilia M. Bitz Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

North Atlantic sea ice anomalies are thought to play an important role in the abrupt Dansgaard–Oeschger (D–O) cycles of the last glacial period. This model study investigates the impacts of changes in North Atlantic sea ice extent in glacial climates to help provide geographical constraints on their involvement in D–O cycles. Based on a coupled climate model simulation of the Last Glacial Maximum (21 ka), the Nordic seas and western North Atlantic (broadly, south of Greenland) are identified as two plausible regions for large and persistent displacements of the sea ice edge in the glacial North Atlantic. Sea ice retreat scenarios targeting these regions are designed to represent ice cover changes associated with the cold-to-warm (stadial-to-interstadial) transitions of D–O cycles. The atmospheric responses to sea ice retreat in the Nordic seas and in the western North Atlantic are tested individually and together using an atmospheric general circulation model. The Nordic seas ice retreat causes 10°C of winter warming and a 50% increase in snow accumulation at Greenland Summit; concomitant ice retreat in the western North Atlantic has little additional effect. The results suggest that displacements of the winter sea ice edge in the Nordic seas are important for creating the observed climate signals associated with D–O cycles in the Greenland ice cores.

Corresponding author address: Camille Li, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Allegaten 55, 5007 Bergen, Norway. Email: camille@uib.no

Abstract

North Atlantic sea ice anomalies are thought to play an important role in the abrupt Dansgaard–Oeschger (D–O) cycles of the last glacial period. This model study investigates the impacts of changes in North Atlantic sea ice extent in glacial climates to help provide geographical constraints on their involvement in D–O cycles. Based on a coupled climate model simulation of the Last Glacial Maximum (21 ka), the Nordic seas and western North Atlantic (broadly, south of Greenland) are identified as two plausible regions for large and persistent displacements of the sea ice edge in the glacial North Atlantic. Sea ice retreat scenarios targeting these regions are designed to represent ice cover changes associated with the cold-to-warm (stadial-to-interstadial) transitions of D–O cycles. The atmospheric responses to sea ice retreat in the Nordic seas and in the western North Atlantic are tested individually and together using an atmospheric general circulation model. The Nordic seas ice retreat causes 10°C of winter warming and a 50% increase in snow accumulation at Greenland Summit; concomitant ice retreat in the western North Atlantic has little additional effect. The results suggest that displacements of the winter sea ice edge in the Nordic seas are important for creating the observed climate signals associated with D–O cycles in the Greenland ice cores.

Corresponding author address: Camille Li, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Allegaten 55, 5007 Bergen, Norway. Email: camille@uib.no

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