Articles | Volume 6, issue 6
Research article
01 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 01 Nov 2012

The early twentieth century warming and winter Arctic sea ice

V. A. Semenov and M. Latif

Abstract. The Arctic has featured the strongest surface warming over the globe during the recent decades, and the temperature increase has been accompanied by a rapid decline in sea ice extent. However, little is known about Arctic sea ice change during the early twentieth century warming (ETCW) during 1920–1940, also a period of a strong surface warming, both globally and in the Arctic. Here, we investigate the sensitivity of Arctic winter surface air temperature (SAT) to sea ice during 1875–2008 by means of simulations with an atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) forced by estimates of the observed sea surface temperature (SST) and sea ice concentration. The Arctic warming trend since the 1960s is very well reproduced by the model. In contrast, ETCW in the Arctic is hardly captured. This is consistent with the fact that the sea ice extent in the forcing data does not strongly vary during ETCW. AGCM simulations with observed SST but fixed sea ice reveal a strong dependence of winter SAT on sea ice extent. In particular, the warming during the recent decades is strongly underestimated by the model, if the sea ice extent does not decline and varies only seasonally. This suggests that a significant reduction of winter Arctic sea ice extent may have also accompanied the early twentieth century warming, pointing toward an important link between anomalous sea ice extent and Arctic surface temperature variability.