21 Feb 2023
 | 21 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Forced and internal components of observed Arctic sea-ice changes

Jakob Simon Dörr, David B. Bonan, Marius Årthun, Lea Svendsen, and Robert C. J. Wills

Abstract. The Arctic sea ice cover is strongly influenced by internal variability on decadal time scales, affecting both short-term trends and the timing of the first ice-free summer. Several mechanisms of variability have been proposed, but how these mechanisms manifest both spatially and temporally remains unclear. The relative contribution of internal variability to observed Arctic sea ice changes also remains poorly quantified. Here, we use a novel technique called low-frequency component analysis to identify the dominant patterns of winter and summer decadal Arctic sea-ice variability in the satellite record. The identified patterns account for most of the observed regional sea ice variability and trends, and thus help to disentangle the role of forced and internal sea ice changes over the satellite record. In particular, we identify a mode of decadal ocean-atmosphere-sea ice variability, characterized by an anomalous atmospheric circulation over the central Arctic, that accounts for approximately 30 % of the accelerated decline in pan-Arctic summer sea-ice area between 2000 and 2012. For winter sea ice, we find that internal variability has dominated decadal trends in the Bering Sea, but has contributed less to trends in the Barents and Kara Seas. These results, which detail the first purely observation-based estimate of the contribution of internal variability to Arctic sea ice trends, suggest a lower estimate of the contribution from internal variability than most model-based assessments.

Jakob Simon Dörr et al.

Status: open (until 20 Apr 2023)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2023-29', Qinghua Ding, 27 Mar 2023 reply

Jakob Simon Dörr et al.

Jakob Simon Dörr et al.


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Short summary
The Arctic sea-ice cover is retreating due to climate change, but this retreat is influenced by natural (internal) variability in the climate system. We use a new statistical method to investigate how much internal variability has affected trends in the summer and winter Arctic sea ice cover using observations since 1979. Our results suggest that the impact of internal variability on sea ice retreat might be lower than what climate models have estimated.