Impact of a Reduced Arctic Sea Ice Cover on Ocean and Atmospheric Properties

Sedláček, Jan; Knutti, Reto; Martius, Olivia; Beyerle, Urs (2012). Impact of a Reduced Arctic Sea Ice Cover on Ocean and Atmospheric Properties. Journal of Climate, 25(1), pp. 307-319. American Meteorological Society 10.1175/2011JCLI3904.1

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The Arctic sea ice cover declined over the last few decades and reached a record minimum in 2007, with a slight recovery thereafter. Inspired by this the authors investigate the response of atmospheric and oceanic properties to a 1-yr period of reduced sea ice cover. Two ensembles of equilibrium and transient simulations are produced with the Community Climate System Model. A sea ice change is induced through an albedo change of 1 yr. The sea ice area and thickness recover in both ensembles after 3 and 5 yr, respectively. The sea ice anomaly leads to changes in ocean temperature and salinity to a depth of about 200 m in the Arctic Basin. Further, the salinity and temperature changes in the surface layer trigger a “Great Salinity Anomaly” in the North Atlantic that takes roughly 8 yr to travel across the North Atlantic back to high latitudes. In the atmosphere the changes induced by the sea ice anomaly do not last as long as in the ocean. The response in the transient and equilibrium simulations, while similar overall, differs in specific regional and temporal details. The surface air temperature increases over the Arctic Basin and the anomaly extends through the whole atmospheric column, changing the geopotential height fields and thus the storm tracks. The patterns of warming and thus the position of the geopotential height changes vary in the two ensembles. While the equilibrium simulation shifts the storm tracks to the south over the eastern North Atlantic and Europe, the transient simulation shifts the storm tracks south over the western North Atlantic and North America. The authors propose that the overall reduction in sea ice cover is important for producing ocean anomalies; however, for atmospheric anomalies the regional location of the sea ice anomalies is more important.

While observed trends in Arctic sea ice are large and exceed those simulated by comprehensive climate models, there is little evidence based on this particular model that the seasonal loss of sea ice (e.g., as occurred in 2007) would constitute a threshold after which the Arctic would exhibit nonlinear, irreversible, or strongly accelerated sea ice loss. Caution should be exerted when extrapolating short-term trends to future sea ice behavior.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Impact
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Romppainen-Martius, Olivia


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 910 Geography & travel




American Meteorological Society




Monika Wälti-Stampfli

Date Deposited:

20 Aug 2015 10:46

Last Modified:

16 Nov 2020 22:36

Publisher DOI:





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