IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Sea Level Pressure and Atmospheric Circulation

As a basic component of the mean atmospheric circulations and weather patterns, projections of the mean sea level pressure for the medium scenario A1B are considered. Seasonal mean changes for DJF and JJA are shown in Figure 10.9 (matching results in Wang and Swail, 2006b). Sea level pressure differences show decreases at high latitudes in both seasons in both hemispheres. The compensating increases are predominantly over the mid-latitude and subtropical ocean regions, extending across South America, Australia and southern Asia in JJA, and the Mediterranean in DJF. Many of these increases are consistent across the models. This pattern of change, discussed further in Section, has been linked to an expansion of the Hadley Circulation and a poleward shift of the mid-latitude storm tracks (Yin, 2005). This helps explain, in part, the increases in precipitation at high latitudes and decreases in the subtropics and parts of the mid-latitudes. Further analysis of the regional details of these changes is given in Chapter 11. The pattern of pressure change implies increased westerly flows across the western parts of the continents. These contribute to increases in mean precipitation (Figure 10.9) and increased precipitation intensity (Meehl et al., 2005a).

10.3.3 Changes in Ocean/Ice and High-Latitude Climate Changes in Sea Ice Cover

Models of the 21st century project that future warming is amplified at high latitudes resulting from positive feedbacks involving snow and sea ice, and other processes (Section The warming is particularly large in autumn and early winter (Manabe and Stouffer, 1980; Holland and Bitz, 2003) when sea ice is thinnest and the snow depth is insufficient to blur the relationship between surface air temperature and sea ice thickness (Maykut and Untersteiner, 1971). As shown by Zhang and Walsh (2006), the coupled models show a range of responses in NH sea ice areal extent ranging from very little change to a strong and accelerating reduction over the 21st century (Figure 10.13a,b).

Figure 10.13

Figure 10.13. Multi-model simulated anomalies in sea ice extent for the 20th century (20c3m) and 21st century using the SRES A2, A1B and B1 as well as the commitment scenario for (a) Northern Hemisphere January to March (JFM), (b) Northern Hemisphere July to September (JAS). Panels (c) and (d) are as for (a) and (b) but for the Southern Hemisphere. The solid lines show the multi-model mean, shaded areas denote ±1 standard deviation. Sea ice extent is defined as the total area where sea ice concentration exceeds 15%. Anomalies are relative to the period 1980 to 2000. The number of models is given in the legend and is different for each scenario.

An important characteristic of the projected change is for summer ice area to decline far more rapidly than winter ice area (Gordon and O’Farrell, 1997), and hence sea ice rapidly approaches a seasonal ice cover in both hemispheres (Figures 10.13b and 10.14). Seasonal ice cover is, however, rather robust and persists to some extent throughout the 21st century in most (if not all) models. Bitz and Roe (2004) note that future projections show that arctic sea ice thins fastest where it is initially thickest, a characteristic that future climate projections share with sea ice thinning observed in the late 20th century (Rothrock et al., 1999). Consistent with these results, a projection by Gregory et al. (2002b) shows that arctic sea ice volume decreases more quickly than sea ice area (because trends in winter ice area are low) in the 21st century.

In 20th- and 21st-century simulations, antarctic sea ice cover is projected to decrease more slowly than in the Arctic (Figures 10.13c,d and 10.14), particularly in the vicinity of the Ross Sea where most models predict a local minimum in surface warming. This is commensurate with the region with the greatest reduction in ocean heat loss, which results from reduced vertical mixing in the ocean (Gregory, 2000). The ocean stores much of its increased heat below 1 km depth in the Southern Ocean. In contrast, horizontal heat transport poleward of about 60°N increases in many models (Holland and Bitz, 2003), but much of this heat remains in the upper 1 km of the northern subpolar seas and Arctic Ocean (Gregory, 2000; Bitz et al., 2006). Bitz et al. (2006) argue that these differences in the depth where heat is accumulating in the high-latitude oceans have consequences for the relative rates of sea ice decay in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Figure 10.14

Figure 10.14. Multi-model mean sea ice concentration (%) for January to March (JFM) and June to September (JAS), in the Arctic (top) and Antarctic (bottom) for the periods (a) 1980 to 2000 and b) 2080 to 2100 for the SRES A1B scenario. The dashed white line indicates the present-day 15% average sea ice concentration limit. Modified from Flato et al. (2004).

While most climate models share these common characteristics (peak surface warming in autumn and early winter, sea ice rapidly becomes seasonal, arctic ice decays faster than antarctic ice, and northward ocean heat transport increases into the northern high latitudes), models have poor agreement on the amount of thinning of sea ice (Flato and Participating CMIP Modeling Groups, 2004; Arzel et al., 2006) and the overall climate change in the polar regions (IPCC, 2001; Holland and Bitz, 2003). Flato (2004) shows that the basic state of the sea ice and the reduction in thickness and/or extent have little to do with sea ice model physics among CMIP2 models. Holland and Bitz (2003) and Arzel et al. (2006) find serious biases in the basic state of simulated sea ice thickness and extent. Further, Rind et al. (1995), Holland and Bitz (2003) and Flato (2004) show that the basic state of the sea ice thickness and extent have a significant influence on the projected change in sea ice thickness in the Arctic and extent in the Antarctic.