Understanding the Forecast Skill of Rapid Arctic Sea Ice Loss on Subseasonal Time Scales

Marie C. McGraw aDepartment of Atmospheric Science, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Eduardo Blanchard-Wrigglesworth aDepartment of Atmospheric Science, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Robin P. Clancy aDepartment of Atmospheric Science, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Cecilia M. Bitz aDepartment of Atmospheric Science, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

The predictability of sea ice during extreme sea ice loss events on subseasonal (daily to weekly) time scales is explored in dynamical forecast models. These extreme sea ice loss events (defined as the 5th percentile of the 5-day change in sea ice extent) exhibit substantial regional and seasonal variability; in the central Arctic Ocean basin, most subseasonal rapid ice loss occurs in the summer, but in the marginal seas rapid sea ice loss occurs year-round. Dynamical forecast models are largely able to capture the seasonality of these extreme sea ice loss events. In most regions in the summertime, sea ice forecast skill is lower on extreme sea ice loss days than on nonextreme days, despite evidence that links these extreme events to large-scale atmospheric patterns; in the wintertime, the difference between extreme and nonextreme days is less pronounced. In a damped anomaly forecast benchmark estimate, the forecast error remains high following extreme sea ice loss events and does not return to typical error levels for many weeks; this signal is less robust in the dynamical forecast models but still present. Overall, these results suggest that sea ice forecast skill is generally lower during and after extreme sea ice loss events and also that, while dynamical forecast models are capable of simulating extreme sea ice loss events with similar characteristics to what we observe, forecast skill from dynamical models is limited by biases in mean state and variability and errors in the initialization.

Significance Statement

We studied weather model forecasts of changes in Arctic sea ice extent on day-to-day time scales in different regions and seasons. We were especially interested in extreme sea ice loss days, or days in which sea ice melts very quickly or is reduced due to diverging forces such as winds, ocean currents, and waves. We find that forecast models generally capture the observed timing of extreme sea ice loss days. We also find that forecasts of sea ice extent are worse on extreme sea ice loss days compared to typical days, and that forecast errors remain elevated following extreme sea ice loss events.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

McGraw’s current affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Corresponding author: Marie C. McGraw, mmcgraw@rams.colostate.edu

Abstract

The predictability of sea ice during extreme sea ice loss events on subseasonal (daily to weekly) time scales is explored in dynamical forecast models. These extreme sea ice loss events (defined as the 5th percentile of the 5-day change in sea ice extent) exhibit substantial regional and seasonal variability; in the central Arctic Ocean basin, most subseasonal rapid ice loss occurs in the summer, but in the marginal seas rapid sea ice loss occurs year-round. Dynamical forecast models are largely able to capture the seasonality of these extreme sea ice loss events. In most regions in the summertime, sea ice forecast skill is lower on extreme sea ice loss days than on nonextreme days, despite evidence that links these extreme events to large-scale atmospheric patterns; in the wintertime, the difference between extreme and nonextreme days is less pronounced. In a damped anomaly forecast benchmark estimate, the forecast error remains high following extreme sea ice loss events and does not return to typical error levels for many weeks; this signal is less robust in the dynamical forecast models but still present. Overall, these results suggest that sea ice forecast skill is generally lower during and after extreme sea ice loss events and also that, while dynamical forecast models are capable of simulating extreme sea ice loss events with similar characteristics to what we observe, forecast skill from dynamical models is limited by biases in mean state and variability and errors in the initialization.

Significance Statement

We studied weather model forecasts of changes in Arctic sea ice extent on day-to-day time scales in different regions and seasons. We were especially interested in extreme sea ice loss days, or days in which sea ice melts very quickly or is reduced due to diverging forces such as winds, ocean currents, and waves. We find that forecast models generally capture the observed timing of extreme sea ice loss days. We also find that forecasts of sea ice extent are worse on extreme sea ice loss days compared to typical days, and that forecast errors remain elevated following extreme sea ice loss events.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

McGraw’s current affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Corresponding author: Marie C. McGraw, mmcgraw@rams.colostate.edu

Supplementary Materials

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