Seasonality in Arctic Warming Driven By Sea Ice Effective Heat Capacity

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Lily Caroline Hahn , Kyle C. Armour, David S. Battisti, Ian Eisenman, Cecilia M. Bitz


Arctic surface warming under greenhouse gas forcing peaks in early winter and reaches its minimum during summer in both observations and model projections. Many mechanisms have been proposed to explain this seasonal asymmetry, but disentangling these processes remains a challenge in the interpretation of general circulation model (GCM) experiments. To isolate these mechanisms, we use an idealized single-column sea ice model (SCM) which captures the seasonal pattern of Arctic warming. SCM experiments demonstrate that as sea ice melts and exposes open ocean, the accompanying increase in effective surface heat capacity can alone produce the observed pattern of peak early winter warming by slowing the seasonal heating and cooling rate, thus delaying the phase and reducing the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of surface temperature. To investigate warming seasonality in more complex models, we perform GCM experiments that individually isolate sea-ice albedo and thermodynamic effects under CO2 forcing. These also show a key role for the effective heat capacity of sea ice in promoting seasonal asymmetry through suppressing summer warming, in addition to precluding summer climatological inversions and a positive summer lapse-rate feedback. Peak winter warming in GCM experiments is further supported by a positive winter lapse-rate feedback that persists with only the albedo effects of sea-ice loss prescribed, due to cold initial surface temperatures and strong surface-trapped warming. While many factors support peak early winter warming as Arctic sea ice declines, these results highlight changes in effective surface heat capacity as a central mechanism contributing to this seasonality.



Physical Sciences and Mathematics


climate models, climate change, Arctic, sea ice


Published: 2021-08-17 08:20

Last Updated: 2021-08-17 15:20


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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