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An optimal atmospheric circulation mode in the Arctic favoring strong summertime sea ice melting and ice-albedo feedback

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  • 1 1Department of Geography and Earth Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
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Abstract

The rapid decline of summer Arctic sea ice over the past few decades has been driven by a combination of increasing greenhouse gases and internal variability of the climate system. However, uncertainties remain regarding spatial and temporal characteristics of the optimal internal atmospheric mode that most favors summer sea ice melting on low-frequency time scales. To pinpoint this mode, we conduct a suite of simulations in which atmospheric circulation is constrained by nudging tropospheric Arctic (60-90°N) winds within the Community Earth System Model (CESM1) to those from reanalysis. Each reanalysis year is repeated for over 10 model years using fixed greenhouse gas concentrations and the same initial conditions. Composites show the strongest September sea ice losses are closely preceded by a common JJA (June-July-August) barotropic anticyclonic circulation in the Arctic favoring shortwave absorption at the surface. Successive years of strong wind-driven melting also enhance declines in Arctic sea ice through enhancement of the ice-albedo feedback, reaching a quasi-equilibrium response after repeated wind forcing for over 5-6 years, as the effectiveness of the wind-driven ice-albedo feedback becomes saturated. Strong melting favored by a similar wind pattern as observations is detected in a long preindustrial simulation and 400-yr paleoclimate reanalysis, suggesting that a summer barotropic anticyclonic wind pattern represents the optimal internal atmospheric mode maximizing sea ice melting in both the model and natural world over a range of timescales. Considering strong contributions of this mode to changes in Arctic climate, a better understanding of its origin and maintenance is vital to improving future projections of Arctic sea ice.

Corresponding author: Ian Baxter, itbaxter@ucsb.edu

Abstract

The rapid decline of summer Arctic sea ice over the past few decades has been driven by a combination of increasing greenhouse gases and internal variability of the climate system. However, uncertainties remain regarding spatial and temporal characteristics of the optimal internal atmospheric mode that most favors summer sea ice melting on low-frequency time scales. To pinpoint this mode, we conduct a suite of simulations in which atmospheric circulation is constrained by nudging tropospheric Arctic (60-90°N) winds within the Community Earth System Model (CESM1) to those from reanalysis. Each reanalysis year is repeated for over 10 model years using fixed greenhouse gas concentrations and the same initial conditions. Composites show the strongest September sea ice losses are closely preceded by a common JJA (June-July-August) barotropic anticyclonic circulation in the Arctic favoring shortwave absorption at the surface. Successive years of strong wind-driven melting also enhance declines in Arctic sea ice through enhancement of the ice-albedo feedback, reaching a quasi-equilibrium response after repeated wind forcing for over 5-6 years, as the effectiveness of the wind-driven ice-albedo feedback becomes saturated. Strong melting favored by a similar wind pattern as observations is detected in a long preindustrial simulation and 400-yr paleoclimate reanalysis, suggesting that a summer barotropic anticyclonic wind pattern represents the optimal internal atmospheric mode maximizing sea ice melting in both the model and natural world over a range of timescales. Considering strong contributions of this mode to changes in Arctic climate, a better understanding of its origin and maintenance is vital to improving future projections of Arctic sea ice.

Corresponding author: Ian Baxter, itbaxter@ucsb.edu
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