Properties of adjoint sea ice sensitivities to atmospheric forcing and implications for the causes of the long term trend of Arctic sea ice

Abstract

Based on adjoint sensitivities of the coupled Massachusetts Institute of Technology ocean–sea ice circulation model, the potential influence of thermodynamic atmospheric forcing on the interannual variability of the September sea ice area (AREA) and volume (VOLUME) in the Arctic is investigated for the three periods 1980–1989, 1990–1999 and 2000–2009. Sensitivities suggest that only large forcing anomalies prior to the spring melting onset in May can influence the September sea ice characteristics while even small changes in the atmospheric variables during subsequent months can significantly influence September sea ice state. Specifically, AREA close to the ice edge in the Arctic seas is highly sensitive to thermodynamic atmospheric forcing changes from June to July. In contrast, VOLUME is highly sensitive to atmospheric temperature changes occurring during the same period over the central parts of the Arctic Ocean. A comparison of the sea ice conditions and sensitivities during three different periods reveals that, due to the strong decline of sea ice concentration and sea ice thickness, sea ice area became substantially more sensitive to the same amplitude thermodynamic atmospheric forcing anomalies during 2000–2009 relative to the earlier periods. To obtain a quantitative estimate of changes that can be expected from existing atmospheric trends, adjoint sensitivities are multiplied by monthly temperature differences between 1980s and two following decades. Strongest contributions of surface atmospheric temperature differences to AREA and VOLUME changes are observed during May and September. The strongest contribution from the downward long-wave heat flux to AREA changes occurs in September and to VOLUME changes in July–August. About 62 % of the AREA decrease simulated by the model can be explained by summing all contributions to the thermodynamic atmospheric forcing. The changing sea ice state (sensitivity) is found to enhance the decline and accounts for about one third of the explained reduction. For the VOLUME decrease, the explained fraction of the decrease is only about 37 %.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank J. Marotzke for valuable discussions during an earlier stage of this work and D. Menemenlis for help with the model setup. N.K. was funded in part by the European Commission 7th framework program through the MONARCH-A Collaborative Project, FP7-Space-2009-1 contract No. 242446 and by the International Max Planck Research School on Earth System Modelling.

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Koldunov, N.V., Köhl, A. & Stammer, D. Properties of adjoint sea ice sensitivities to atmospheric forcing and implications for the causes of the long term trend of Arctic sea ice. Clim Dyn 41, 227–241 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-013-1816-7

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Keywords

  • Arctic Ocean
  • Volume Sensitivity
  • Adjoint Model
  • ICESat
  • Adjoint Sensitivity