IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

Sea Ice and Ocean

Arctic sea ice biases in present-day MMD simulations are discussed in Section 8.3. Arctic ocean-sea ice RCMs under realistic atmospheric forcing are increasingly capable of reproducing the known features of the Arctic Ocean circulation and observed sea ice drift patterns. The inflow of the two branches of Atlantic origin via the Fram Strait and the Barents Sea and their subsequent passage at mid-depths in several cyclonic circulation cells are present in most recent simulations (Karcher et al., 2003; Maslowski et al., 2004; Steiner et al., 2004). Most of the models are biased towards overly salty values in the Beaufort Gyre and thus too little freshwater storage in the arctic halocline. Several potential causes have been identified, among them a biased simulation of arctic shelf processes and wind forcing. Most hindcast simulations with these RCMs show a reduction in the arctic ice volume over recent decades (Holloway and Sou, 2002). Climate Projections


A northern high-latitude maximum in the warming (‘polar amplification’) is consistently found in all AOGCM simulations (see Section 10.3). The simulated annual mean arctic warming exceeds the global mean warming by roughly a factor of two in the MMD models, while the winter warming in the central arctic is a factor of four larger than the global annual mean when averaged over the models. These magnitudes are comparable to those obtained in previous studies (Holland and Bitz, 2003; ACIA, 2005). The consistency between observations and the ensemble mean 20th-century simulations (Figure 11.18), combined with the fact that the near-future projections (2010–2029) continue the late 20th-century trends in temperature, ice extent and thickness with little modification (Serreze and Francis, 2006), increases confidence in this basic polar-amplified warming pattern, despite the inter-model differences in the amount of polar amplification.

Figure 11.18

Figure 11.18. Top panels: Temperature anomalies with respect to 1901 to 1950 for the whole Arctic for 1906 to 2005 (black line) as simulated (red envelope) by MMD models incorporating known forcings; and as projected for 2001 to 2100 by MMD models for the A1B scenario (orange envelope). The bars at the end of the orange envelope represent the range of projected changes for 2091 to 2100 for the B1 scenario (blue), the A1B scenario (orange) and the A2 scenario (red). The black line is dashed where observations are present for less than 50% of the area in the decade concerned. Bottom panels: The same for Antarctic land, but with observations for 1936 to 2005 and anomalies calculated with respect to 1951 to 2000. More details on the construction of these figures are given in Box 11.1 and Section 11.1.2.

At the end of the 21st century, the projected annual warming in the Arctic is 5°C, estimated by the MMD-A1B ensemble mean projection (Section, Figure 11.21). There is a considerable across-model range of 2.8°C to 7.8°C (Table 11.1). Larger (smaller) mean warming is found for the A2 (B1) scenario of 5.9°C (3.4°C), with a proportional across-model range. The across-model and across-scenario variability in the projected temperatures are both considerable and of comparable amplitude (Chapman and Walsh, 2007).

Over both ocean and land, the largest (smallest) warming is projected in winter (summer) (Table 11.1, Figure 11.19). But the seasonal amplitude of the temperature change is much larger over ocean than over land due the presence of melting sea ice in summer keeping the temperatures close to the freezing point. The surface air temperature over the Arctic Ocean region is generally warmed more than over arctic land areas (except in summer). The range between the individual simulated changes remains large (Figure 11.19, Table 11.1). By the end of the century, the mean warming ranges from 4.3°C to 11.4°C in winter, and from 1.2°C to 5.3°C in summer under the A1B scenario. The corresponding 5 to 95% confidence intervals are given in Supplementary Material Table S11.2. In addition to the overall differences in global warming, difficulties in simulating sea ice, partly related to biases in the surface wind fields, as well as deficiencies in cloud schemes, are likely responsible for much of the inter-model scatter. Internal variability plays a secondary role when examining these late-21st century responses.

Figure 11.19

Figure 11.19. Annual cycle of arctic area mean temperature and percentage precipitation changes (averaged over the area north of 60°N) for 2080 to 2099 minus 1980 to 1999, under the A1B scenario. Thick lines represent the ensemble median of the 21 MMD models. The dark grey area represents the 25 and 75% quartile values among the 21 models, while the light grey area shows the total range of the models.

The annual mean temperature response pattern at the end of the 21st century under the A1B scenario (Supplementary Material Figures S11.27 and S11.11) is characterised by a robust and large warming over the central Arctic Ocean (5°C to 7°C), dominated by the warming in winter/autumn associated with the reduced sea ice. The maximum warming is projected over the Barents Sea, although this could result from an overestimated albedo feedback caused by removal of the present-day simulations’ excessive sea ice cover. A region of reduced warming (<2°C, even slight cooling in several models) is projected over the northern North Atlantic, which is consistent among the models. This is due to weakening of the MOC (see Section 10.3).

While the natural variability in arctic temperatures is large compared to other regions, the signals are still large enough to emerge quickly from the noise (Table 11.1). Looking more locally, as described by Chapman and Walsh (2007), Alaska is perhaps the land region with the smallest signal-to-noise ratio, and is the only arctic region in which the 20-year mean 2010 to 2029 temperature is not clearly discernible from the 1981 to 2000 mean in the MMD models. But even here the signal is clear by mid-century in all three scenarios.

The regional temperature responses are modified by changes in circulation patterns (Chapter 10). In winter, shifts in NAO phase can induce inter-decadal temperature variations of up to 5°C in the eastern Arctic (Dorn et al., 2003). The MMD models project winter circulation changes consistent with an increasingly positive NAM/NAO (see Section 10.3), which acts to enhance the warming in Eurasia and western North America. In summer, circulation changes are projected to favour warm anomalies north of Scandinavia and extending into the eastern Arctic, with cold anomalies over much of Alaska (Cassano et al., 2006). However, deficiencies in the arctic summer synoptic activity in these models reduce confidence in the detailed spatial structure. In addition, these circulation-induced temperature changes are not large enough to change the relatively uniform summer warming seen in the MMD models

The patterns of temperature changes simulated by RCMs are quite similar to those simulated by GCMs. However, they show an increased warming along the sea ice margin possibly due to a better description of the mesoscale weather systems and air-sea fluxes associated with the ice edge (ACIA, 2005). The warming over most of the central Arctic and Siberia, particularly in summer, tends to be lower in RCM simulations (by up to 2°C) probably due to more realistic present-day snowpack simulations (ACIA, 2005). The warming is modulated by the topographical height, snow cover and associated albedo feedback as shown for the region of northern Canada and Alaska (see Section 11.5.3).