The impact of sea-ice dynamics on the Arctic climate system

S. Vavrus*, S. P. Harrison

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    43 Citations (Scopus)


    Five paired global climate model experiments, one with an ice pack that only responds thermodynamically (TI) and one including sea-ice dynamics (DI), were used to investigate the sensitivity of Arctic climates to sea-ice motion. The sequence of experiments includes situations in which the Arctic was both considerably colder (Glacial Inception, ca 115,000 years ago) and considerably warmer (3 × CO2) than today. Sea-ice motion produces cooler anomalies year-round than simulations without ice dynamics, resulting in reduced Arctic warming in warm scenarios and increased Arctic cooling in cold scenarios. These changes reflect changes in atmospheric circulation patterns: the DI simulations favor outflow of Arctic air and sea ice into the North Atlantic by promoting cyclonic circulation centered over northern Eurasia, whereas the TI simulations favor southerly inflow of much warmer air from the North Atlantic by promoting cyclonic circulation centered over Greenland. The differences between the paired simulations are sufficiently large to produce different vegetation cover over > 19% of the land area north of 55°N, resulting in changes in land-surface characteristics large enough to have an additional impact on climate. Comparison of the DI and TI experiments for the mid-Holocene (6000 years ago) with paleovegetation reconstructions suggests the incorporation of sea-ice dynamics yields a more realistic simulation of high-latitude climates. The spatial pattern of sea-ice anomalies in the warmer-than-modern DI experiments strongly resembles the observed Arctic Ocean sea-ice dipole structure in recent decades, consistent with the idea that greenhouse warming is already impacting the high-northern latitudes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)741-757
    Number of pages17
    JournalClimate Dynamics
    Issue number7-8
    Publication statusPublished - May 2003


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