Climatic Change

, Volume 76, Issue 3–4, pp 241–264 | Cite as

The Arctic Amplification Debate

  • Mark C. SerrezeEmail author
  • Jennifer A. Francis


Rises in surface air temperature (SAT) in response to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are expected to be amplified in northern high latitudes, with warming most pronounced over the Arctic Ocean owing to the loss of sea ice. Observations document recent warming, but an enhanced Arctic Ocean signal is not readily evident. This disparity, combined with varying model projections of SAT change, and large variability in observed SAT over the 20th century, may lead one to question the concept of Arctic amplification. Disparity is greatly reduced, however, if one compares observed trajectories to near-future simulations (2010–2029), rather than to the doubled-CO2 or late 21st century conditions that are typically cited. These near-future simulations document a preconditioning phase of Arctic amplification, characterized by the initial retreat and thinning of sea ice, with imprints of low-frequency variability. Observations show these same basic features, but with SATs over the Arctic Ocean still largely constrained by the insulating effects of the ice cover and thermal inertia of the upper ocean. Given the general consistency with model projections, we are likely near the threshold when absorption of solar radiation during summer limits ice growth the following autumn and winter, initiating a feedback leading to a substantial increase in Arctic Ocean SATs.


Arctic Ocean Advance Very High Resolution Radiometer Advance Very High Resolution Radiometer Northern High Latitude Recent Warming 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. ACIA: 2004, ‘Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.’ Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alley, R. B., Nordhaus, W. D., Overpeck, J. T., Peteet, D. M., Pielke Jr., R. A., PierreHumbert, R. T., Rhines, P. B., Stocker, T. F., Talley, L. D., and Wallace, J. M.: 2003, ‘Abrupt climate change’, Science 299, 2005–2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armstrong, R. L. and Brodzik, M. J.: 2001, ‘Recent Northern Hemisphere snow extent: a comparison of data derived from visible and microwave sensors’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 28(19), 3673–3676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baldwin, M. P. and Dunkerton, T. J.: 1999, ‘Propagation of the Arctic Oscillation from the stratosphere to the troposphere’, J. Geophys. Res. 104, 30,937–30,946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belchansky, G. I., Douglas, D. C., and Platonov, N. G.: 2003, ‘Duration of the Arctic melt season: Regional and interannual variability, 1979–2001,’ J. Climate 17, 67–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bengtsson, L., Semenov, V. A., and Johannessen, O. M.: 2004: ‘The early twentieth-century warming in the Arctic – a possible mechanism’, J. Clim. 17, 4045–4057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cassau, C. and Terray, L.: 2001, ‘Dual influence of Atlantic and Pacific SST anomalies on the North Atlantic/Europe winter climate’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 3195–3198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cavalieri, D. J., Parkinson, C. L., and Vinnikov, K. Y.: 2003, ‘30-year satellite record reveals contrasting Arctic and Antarctic decadal sea ice variability’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1970, doi:10.1029/2003GL018031.Google Scholar
  9. Chapin, F. S. III, Sturm, M., Serreze, M. C., McFadden, J. P., Key, J. R., Lloyd, A. H., McGuire, A. D., Rupp, T. S., Lynch, A. H., Schimel, J. P., Beringer, J., Chapman, W. L., Epstein, H. E., Euskirchen, E. S., Hinzman, L. D., Jia, G., Ping, C.-L., Tape, K. D., Thompson, C. D. C., Walker, D. A., and Welker, J. M.: 2005, ‘Role of land-surface changes in Arctic summer warming’, Science 310, 675–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chen, Y., Francis, J. A., and Miller, J. R.: 2002, ‘Surface temperature of the Arctic: comparison of TOVS satellite retrievals with surface observations’, J. Climate 15, 3698–3708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chen, Y., Miller, J. R., Francis, J. A., Russell, G. L., and Aires, F.: 2003, ‘Observed and modeled relationships among Arctic climate variables’, J. Geophys. Res. 108(D24), 4799, doi:10.1029/2003JD003824.Google Scholar
  12. Comiso, J.: 2003, ‘Warming trends in the Arctic from clear-sky satellite observations’, J. Climate 16, 3498–3510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Comiso, J. C.: 2001, ‘Satellite observed variability and trend in sea ice extent, surface temperature, albedo, and clouds in the Arctic’, Ann. Glaciol. 33, 457–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Comiso, J. C.: 2000, ‘A rapidly declining Arctic perennial ice cover’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 1956, doi:10.1029/2002GL015650.Google Scholar
  15. Croll. J.: 1875, Climate and Time in their Geological Relations, a Theory of Secular Change of the Earth's Climate, Daldy, Ibister & Co., London, p. 577.Google Scholar
  16. Curry, J. A., Schramm, J. E., and Ebert, E. E.: 1995, ‘On the ice albedo climate feedback mechanism’, J. Climate 8, 240–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Curry, J. A., Rossow, W. B., Randall, D., and Schramm, J. L.: 1996, ‘Overview of Arctic cloud and radiation conditions’, J. Climate 9, 1731–1764.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Delworth, T. L. and Knutson, T. R.: 2000, ‘Simulation of early 20th century global warming’, Science 287, 2246–2250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dickson, R. R., Osborn, T. J., Hurrell, J. W., Meincke, J., Blindheim, J., Adlandsvik, B., Vinje, T., Alekseev, G., and Maslowski, W.: 2000, ‘The Arctic Ocean response to the North Atlantic Oscillation’, J. Climate 13, 2671–2696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fyfe, J. C., Boer, G. J., and Flato, G. M.: 1999, ‘The Arctic and Antarctic oscillations and their projected changes under global warming’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 1601–1604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gillett, N. P., Graf, H. F., and Osborn, T. J.: 2003, ‘Climate change and the North Atlantic Oscillation’, in Hurrell, J. W., Kushnir, Y., Ottersen, G., and Visbeck, M. (eds.), The North Atlantic Oscillation: Climatic Significance and Environmental Impact, Geophysical Monograph, Vol. 134, pp. 193–209.Google Scholar
  22. Grenfell, T. C. and Perovich, D. K.: ‘Seasonal and spatial evolution of albedo in a snow-ice-land- ocean environment’, J. Geophys. Res. 109(C01001), doi: 10.1029/2003JC001866.Google Scholar
  23. Groisman, P. Y., Karl, T. R., and Knight, R. W.: 1994, ‘Observed impact of snow cover on the heat balance and the rise of continental spring temperatures’, Science 263, 198–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Groves, D. G. and Francis, J. A.: 2002, ‘Variability of the Arctic atmospheric moisture budget from TOVS satellite data’, J. Geophys. Res. 107(D24), 4785, doi:10.1029/2002JD002285.Google Scholar
  25. Hartman, B. and Wendler, G.: 2005, ‘On the significance of the 1976 Pacific climate shift in the climatology of Alaska’, J. Clim. (in press).Google Scholar
  26. Hoerling, M. P., Hurrell, J. W., and Xu, T.: 2001, ‘Tropical origins for recent North Atlantic climate change’, Science 292, 90–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hoerling, M. P., Hurrell, J. W., Xu, T, Bates, G. T., and Phillips, A.: 2004, ‘Twentieth century North Atlantic climate change. Part II: Understanding the effect of Indian Ocean warming’, Clim. Dyn. doi:10.1007/s00382-004-0433-x.Google Scholar
  28. Holland, M. M. and Bitz, C. M.: 2003, ‘Polar amplification of climate change in coupled models’, Clim. Dyn. 21, 221–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hurrell, J. W.: 1996, ‘Decadal trends in the North Atlantic Oscillation: regional temperatures and precipitation’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 23, 665–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hurrell, J. W., Hoerling, M. P., Phillips, A., and Xu, T.: 2004, ‘Twentieth century North Atlantic climate change. Part I: Assessing determination’, Clim. Dyn. doi:10.1007/s00382-004-0432-y.Google Scholar
  31. Johannessen, O. M., Bengtsson, L., Miles, M. W., Kuzmina, S. I., Semenov, V. A., Aledseev, G. V., Nagumyi, A. P., Zakharov, V. F., Bobylev, L. P., Pettersson, L. H., Hasselmann, K., and Cattle, H. P.: 2004, ‘Arctic climate change: observed and modelled temperature and sea-ice variability’, Tellus 56A, 328–341.Google Scholar
  32. Jones, P. D. and Moberg, A.: 2003, ‘Hemispheric and large scale surface air temperature variations: an extensive revision and an update to 2001’, J. Climate 16, 206–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jones, P. D., New, M., Parker, D. E., Martin, S., and Rigor, I. G.: 1999, ‘Surface air temperature and its variations over the last 150 years’, Rev. Geophys. 37, 173–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Karcher M., Gerdes, R., Kauker, F., and Koberle, C.: 2003, ‘Arctic warming: evolution and spreading of the 1990s warm event in the Nordic seas and Arctic Ocean’, J. Geophys. Res. 108(C2), 3034, doi:10.1029/2001JC001265.Google Scholar
  35. Kuzmina, S., Bengtsson, L., Johannessen, O. M., Drange, H., Bobylev, L. P., and Miles M. W.: 2005, ‘The North Atlantic Oscillation and greenhouse-gas forcing’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, doi:10.1029/2004GL021064.doi:10.1029/2004GL021064, 2005.Google Scholar
  36. Lindsay, R. W. and Zhang, J.: 2005: ‘The thinning of arctic sea ice, 1988–2003: have we passed a tipping point?’, J. Climate (in press).Google Scholar
  37. Martin, S., Munoz, E. A. and Drucker, R.: 1997, ‘Recent observations of a spring-summer surface warming over the Arctic Ocean’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 1259–1262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moritz, R. E., Bitz, C. M., and Steig, E. J.: 2002, ‘Dynamics of recent climate change in the Arctic’, Science 297, 1497–1502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Nakicenovic, N. J. and 27 others: 2000, IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom and New York, p. 599.Google Scholar
  40. Osterkamp, T. E. and Romanovsky, V. E.: 1999, ‘Evidence for warming and thawing of discontinuous permafrost in Alaska’, Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 10, 17–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Overland, J. E., Spillane, M. C., and Soreide, N. N.: 2004, ‘Integrated analysis of physical and biological pan-Arctic change’, Climatic Change 63, 291–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Overland, J. E., Spillane, M. C., Percival, D. B., Wang, M., and Mofjeld, H. O.: 2004, ‘Seasonal and regional variation of pan-Arctic surface air temperature over the instrumental record’, J. Climate 15, 3263–3282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Overpeck, J., Hughen, K., Hardy, D., Bradley, R., Case, R., Douglas, M., Finney, B., Gajewski, K., Jacoby, G., Jennings, A., Lamourex, S., Lasca, A., MacDonald, G., Moore, J., Retelle, M., Smith, S., Wolfe, A., and Zielinski, G.: 1997, ‘Arctic environmental change of the last four centuries’, Science 278, 1251–1256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Parkinson, C. L., Cavalieri, D. J., Gloersen, P., Swally, H. J., and Comiso J. C.: 1999, ‘Arctic sea ice extents, areas, and trends, 1978–1996’, J. Geophys. Res. 104, 20,837–20,856.Google Scholar
  45. Peterson, B. J., Holmes, R. M., McClelland, J. W., Vorosmarty, C. V., Lammers, R. B., Shiklomanov, A. I., Shiklomanov, I. A., and Rahmstorf, S.: 2002, ‘Increasing river discharge to the Arctic Ocean’, Science 298, 2171–2173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Polyakov, I. V., Alekseev, G. V., Bekryaev, R. V., Bhatt, U., Colony, R., Johnson, M. A., Karklin, V. P., Makshtas, A. P., Walsh, D., and Yulin, A. V.: 2002, ‘Observationally based assessment of polar amplification of global warming’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 1878, doi:1029/2001GL011111.Google Scholar
  47. Rigor, I. G., Colony, R. L., and Martin, S.: 2000, ‘Variations in surface air observations in the Arctic, 1979–1997’, J. Climate 13, 896–914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rigor, I. G. and Wallace, J. M.: 2004, ‘Variations in the age of Arctic sea-ice and summer sea-ice extent’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L09401, doi:10.1029/2004GL019492.Google Scholar
  49. Rigor, I. G., Wallace, J. M., and Colony, R. L.: 2002, ‘Response of sea ice to the Arctic Oscillation’, J. Climate 15, 2648–2663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Robinson, D. A. and Frei, A.: 2000, ‘Seasonal variability of northern hemisphere snow extent using visible satellite data’, Professional Geographer 51, 307–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rothrock, D. A., Zhang, J., and Yu, Y.: 2003, ‘The Arctic ice thickness anomaly of the 1990s: A consistent view from observations and models’, J. Geophys. Res. 108(C3), 3083, doi:10.1029/ 2001JC001208.Google Scholar
  52. Rothrock, D. A. and Zhang, J.: 2004: ‘Arctic Ocean sea ice volume: What explains its recent depletion?’, J. Geophys. Res., 110, C01002, doi:10.1029/2004JC002282.Google Scholar
  53. Schindell, D., Rind D., and Balachandran, N. et al.: 1999: ‘Solar cycle, variability, ozone, and climate’, Science, 284, 305–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Semenov, V. A. and Bengtsson, L.: 2003, ‘Modes in the wintertime Arctic temperature variability’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1781, doi:10.1029/2003GL017112.Google Scholar
  55. Serreze, M. C., Walsh, J. E., Chapin III, F. S., Osterkamp, T., Dyurgerov, M., Romanovsky, V., Oechel, W. C., Morison, J., Zhang, T., and Barry, R. G.: 2000, ‘Obsevational evidence of recent change in the northern high latitude environment’, Climatic Change 46, 159–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Serreze, M. C., Maslanik, J. A., Scambos, T. A., Fetterer, F., Stroeve, J., Knowles, K., Fowler, C., Drobot, S., Barry, R. G., and Haran, T. M.: 2003, ‘A record minimum Arctic sea ice extent an area in 2002’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1110, doi:10.1029/2002GL016406.Google Scholar
  57. Skific, N. and Francis, J. A.: 2005, ‘Natural variability and climate change: NAO/AO signal in GISS models. Presented at the Joint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union’, New Orleans, LA, 23–27 May.Google Scholar
  58. Stroeve, J. C., Serreze, M. C., Fetterer, F., Arbetter, T., Meier, M., Maslanik, J., and Knowles, K.: 2005. ‘Tracking the Arctic’s shrinking ice cover: Another extreme September minimum in 2004’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, doi:10.1029/2004GL021810.Google Scholar
  59. Thompson, D. W. J. and Wallace, J. M.: 1998, ‘The Arctic Oscillation signature in the wintertime geopotential height and temperature fields’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 25, 1297–1300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Thompson, D. W. J. and Wallace, J. M.: 2000, ‘Annular modes in the extratropical circulation. Part I: Month-to-month variability’, J. Climate 13, 1000–1016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Thompson, D. W. J., Wallace, J. M., and Hegerl, G.: 2000, ‘Annular modes in the extratropical circulation. Part II: Trends’, J. Climate 13, 1018–1036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wang, X. and Key, J. R.: 2003, ‘Recent trends in Arctic surface, cloud and radiation properties from space’, Science 299, 1725–1728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wang, M. and Overland, J. E.: 2004, ‘Detecting Arctic climate change using Koppen climate classification’, Climatic Change 67, 43–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Yumikoto, S. and Kunihiko, K.: 2005. ‘Interdecadal Arctic Oscillation in twentieth century climate simulations viewed as internal variability and response to external forcing’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L03707, doi:10.1029/2004GL021870.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, National Snow and Ice Data CenterUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Marine and Coastal SciencesRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickCanada

Personalised recommendations