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Summertime atmosphere–sea ice coupling in the Arctic simulated by CMIP5/6 models: Importance of large-scale circulation


Summertime barotropic high pressure in the Arctic and its induced warmer and wetter atmosphere over sea ice are suggested to be important contributors to September sea ice loss on interannual and interdecadal time scales in the past decades. Using ERA5 and other reanalysis data, we find that atmospheric warming and moistening in the Arctic, synchronized by high latitude atmospheric circulation variability, work in tandem to melt sea ice through increasing downwelling longwave radiation at the surface. To what extent this atmosphere-longwave radiation-sea ice relationship can be captured in CMIP5 and 6 remains unknown and thus addressing this question is the objective of this study. To achieve this goal, we construct a process-oriented metric emphasizing the statistical relationship between atmospheric temperature and humidity with sea ice, which can effectively rank and differentiate the performance of 30 CMIP5 climate models in reproducing the observed connection. Based on our evaluation, we suggest that most available models in CMIP5 and 6 have a limitation in reproducing the full strength of the observed atmosphere–sea ice connection. This limitation likely stems from a weak impact of downwelling longwave radiation in linking sea ice with circulation associated with the weak sensitivity of the temperature and humidity fields to circulation variability in the Arctic. Thus, further efforts should be devoted to understanding the sources of these models’ limitations and improve skill in simulating the effects of atmospheric circulation in coupling temperature, humidity, surface radiation and sea ice together during Arctic summer.

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This study was supported by Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (NA19OAR4310281) and Climate Variability & Predictability (NA18OAR4310424) programs as part of NOAA's Climate Program Office, and NSF’s Polar Programs (OPP-1744598). R. L. was jointly supported by the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research (STEP) program (Grant No. 2019QZKK0102), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41790475 and 91937302) and the National Key R&D Program of China (Grant No. 2019YFC1509100), China Scholarship Council (CSC) scholarship (No.201806100093) and NA19OAR4310281. M. B. was supported by NOAA's Science Collaboration Program with funding administered by UCAR's Cooperative Programs for the Advancement of Earth System Science (CPAESS) under awards NA16NWS4620043 and NA18NWS4620043B. Y. Huang was supported by the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship program at the University of Arizona (80NSSC18K1339). X. Dong were supported by NASA CERES project through grant 80NSSC19K0172 at the University of Arizona. We thank Prof. Ed Blanchard for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript

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Correspondence to Qinghua Ding or Zhiwei Wu.

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Luo, R., Ding, Q., Wu, Z. et al. Summertime atmosphere–sea ice coupling in the Arctic simulated by CMIP5/6 models: Importance of large-scale circulation. Clim Dyn 56, 1467–1485 (2021).

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