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The impact of black carbon emissions from projected Arctic shipping on regional ice transport


The direct and indirect effects of global emissions of black carbon (BC) on the evolution of Arctic climate has been well documented. The significance of within-Arctic emissions of BC is less certain. In light of this, an ensemble of scenarios are developed that simulate the hypothetical diversion of 75% of current and projected shipping traffic from the Suez Canal to the Northern Sea Route (NSR). This experiment shows that BC from ships results in a small change in climate forcing that does not influence the Arctic-wide trajectory of change. However, the shift in forcing from the Suez route to the NSR not only influences regional evolution of sea ice cover, but also results in regional feedbacks that in some locations amplify (e.g. Greenland Sea) and in other locations damp (e.g. Labrador Sea) the sea ice retreat under anthropogenic climate change. The primary mechanism underlying these regional effects is a shift in circulation rather than direct thermodynamic forcing. The most significant impacts are distal from the emissions sources, which is likely to have policy implications as the expansion of industrial and transportation activities into the Arctic is considered.

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  1. Cabotage in this paper, following Gunnarsson (2013), is defined as domestic port-to-port transport by both domestic and foreign carriers.


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This research was funded by the National Science Foundation through Grant NNA/CNH-S 1824829: Modeling risk from variation in a coupled natural-human system at the Arctic ice edge. The authors appreciate the insightful discussions with Michael Goldstein on the motivations for and relevance of these simulations for policy and communities. There are no conflicts of interest to report for any authors on this paper, not for the colleagues we acknowledge here. Previous and current CESM versions are freely available at Computing and data storage resources, including the Cheyenne supercomputer (, were provided by the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) at NCAR. The CESM datasets used in this study will be made available upon acceptance of the manuscript from the Earth System Grid Federation (ESGF) at, or from the NCAR Digital Asset Services Hub (DASH) at

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Correspondence to Xueke Li.

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Li, X., Lynch, A.H., Bailey, D.A. et al. The impact of black carbon emissions from projected Arctic shipping on regional ice transport. Clim Dyn 57, 2453–2466 (2021).

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  • Aerosols and particles
  • Ice
  • Earth system modeling
  • Climate change and variability
  • Arctic region