New Research Confirms Arctic Sea Ice Standstill

  • Date: 15/12/15
  • Reporting Climate Science

A new paper forecasts that overall winter sea ice extent will remain steady in the near future. This research underlines the significance of satellite data showing that Arctic sea ice extent now is broadly similar to that reported a decade ago.

Climate scientists at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) present evidence in a new study that they can predict whether the Arctic sea ice that forms in the winter will grow, shrink, or hold its own over the next several years.

The team of scientists has found that changes in the North Atlantic ocean circulation could allow overall winter sea ice extent to remain steady in the near future, with continued loss in some regions balanced by possible growth in others, including in the Barents Sea.

“We know that over the long term, winter sea ice will continue to retreat,” said NCAR scientist Stephen Yeager, lead author of the new study, which appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “But we are predicting that the rate will taper off for several years in the future before resuming. We are not implying some kind of recovery from the effects of human-caused global warming; it’s really just a slow down in winter sea ice loss.”

The research was funded largely by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor, with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Yeager is among a growing number of scientists trying to predict how the climate may change over a few years to a few decades, instead of the more typical span of many decades or even centuries. This type of “decadal prediction” provides information over a timeframe that is useful for policy makers, regional stakeholders, and others.

Decadal prediction relies on the idea that some natural variations in the climate system, such as changes in the strength of ocean currents, unfold predictably over several years. At times, their impacts can overwhelm the general warming trend caused by greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by humans.

Yeager’s past work in this area has focused on decadal prediction of sea surface temperatures. A number of recent studies linking changes in the North Atlantic ocean circulation to sea ice extent led Yeager to think that it would also be possible to make decadal predictions for Arctic winter sea ice cover using the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

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