, Volume 42, Issue 7-8, pp 2239-2257
Date: 07 Jun 2013

Evaluation of pan-Arctic melt-freeze onset in CMIP5 climate models and reanalyses using surface observations

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The seasonal melt-freeze transitions are fundamental features of the Arctic climate system. The representation of the pan-Arctic melt and freeze onset (north of 60°N) is assessed in two reanalyses and eleven CMIP5 global circulation models (GCMs). The seasonal melt-freeze transitions are retrieved from surface air temperature (SAT) across the land and sea-ice domains and evaluated against surface observations. While monthly averages of SAT are reasonably well represented in models, large model-observation and model–model disparities of timing of melt and freeze onset are evident. The evaluation against surface observations reveals that the ERA-Interim reanalysis performs the best, closely followed by some of the climate models. GCMs and reanalyses capture the seasonal melt-freeze transitions better in the central Arctic than in the marginal seas and across the land areas. The GCMs project that during the 21st century, the summer length—the period between melt and freeze onset—will increase over land by about 1 month at all latitudes, and over sea ice by 1 and 3 months at low and high latitudes, respectively. This larger summer-length increase over sea ice at progressively higher latitudes is related to a retreat of summer sea ice during the 21st century, since open water freezes roughly 40 days later than ice-covered ocean. As a consequence, by the year 2100, the freeze onset is projected to be initiated within roughly 10 days across the whole Arctic Ocean, whereas this transition varies by about 80 days today.