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Unprecedented low twentieth century winter sea ice extent in the Western Nordic Seas since A.D. 1200

Abstract

We reconstructed decadal to centennial variability of maximum sea ice extent in the Western Nordic Seas for A.D. 1200–1997 using a combination of a regional tree-ring chronology from the timberline area in Fennoscandia and δ18O from the Lomonosovfonna ice core in Svalbard. The reconstruction successfully explained 59% of the variance in sea ice extent based on the calibration period 1864–1997. The significance of the reconstruction statistics (reduction of error, coefficient of efficiency) is computed for the first time against a realistic noise background. The twentieth century sustained the lowest sea ice extent values since A.D. 1200: low sea ice extent also occurred before (mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries, early fifteenth and late thirteenth centuries), but these periods were in no case as persistent as in the twentieth century. Largest sea ice extent values occurred from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, during the Little Ice Age (LIA), with relatively smaller sea ice-covered area during the sixteenth century. Moderate sea ice extent occurred during thirteenth–fifteenth centuries. Reconstructed sea ice extent variability is dominated by decadal oscillations, frequently associated with decadal components of the North Atlantic Oscillation/Arctic Oscillation (NAO/AO), and multi-decadal lower frequency oscillations operating at ~50–120 year. Sea ice extent and NAO showed a non-stationary relationship during the observational period. The present low sea ice extent is unique over the last 800 years, and results from a decline started in late-nineteenth century after the LIA.

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Acknowledgments

This study was partially funded by the G8 Legacy Chair in Ecology given to Dr. E.A. Johnson at the University of Calgary (Canada). We want to thank all the people who in various ways helped to make the Lomonosovfonna ice-coring project possible. Logistical support came from NPI in Longyearbyen and financial support came from Norwegian Polar Institute and The Norwegian Research Council. We would also want to thank Dmitry Divine at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø (Norway) for his help and assessment on the quality of the Nordic Seas sea ice records. Finally, thanks also to all the people from various institutions in Finland who have helped in the development of the supra-long timberline tree-ring chronology. The Kone Foundation supported Samuli Helama.

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Macias Fauria, M., Grinsted, A., Helama, S. et al. Unprecedented low twentieth century winter sea ice extent in the Western Nordic Seas since A.D. 1200. Clim Dyn 34, 781–795 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-009-0610-z

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Keywords

  • Sea ice
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Nordic seas
  • Global warming
  • Ice core
  • Dendroclimatology
  • Svalbard
  • Fennoscandia
  • NAO
  • AO
  • Little Ice Age