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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Response of the Wintertime Northern Hemisphere Atmospheric Circulation to Current and Projected Arctic Sea Ice Decline: A Numerical Study with CAM5


The wintertime Northern Hemisphere (NH) atmospheric circulation response to current (2007–12) and projected (2080–99) Arctic sea ice decline is examined with the latest version of the Community Atmospheric Model (CAM5). The numerical experiments suggest that the current sea ice conditions force a remote atmospheric response in late winter that favors cold land surface temperatures over midlatitudes, as has been observed in recent years. Anomalous Rossby waves forced by the sea ice anomalies penetrate into the stratosphere in February and weaken the stratospheric polar vortex, resulting in negative anomalies of the northern annular mode (NAM) that propagate downward during the following weeks, especially over the North Pacific. The seasonality of the response is attributed to timing of the phasing between the forced and climatological waves. When sea ice concentration taken from projections of conditions at the end of the twenty-first century is prescribed to the model, negative anomalies of the NAM are visible in the troposphere, both in early and late winter. This response is mainly driven by the large warming of the lower troposphere over the Arctic, as little impact is found in the stratosphere in this experiment. As a result of the thermal expansion of the polar troposphere, the westerly flow is decelerated and a weak but statistically significant increase of the midlatitude meanders is identified. However, the thermodynamical response extends beyond the Arctic and offsets the dynamical effect, such that the stronger sea ice forcing has limited impact on the intensity of cold extremes over midlatitudes.

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