On the potential for abrupt Arctic winter sea-ice loss

S. Bathiany*, Dirk Notz, T. Mauritsen, G. Raedel, V. Brovkin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


The authors examine the transition from a seasonally ice-covered Arctic to an Arctic Ocean that is sea ice free all year round under increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. It is shown that in comprehensive climate models, such loss of Arctic winter sea ice area is faster than the preceding loss of summer sea ice area for the same rate of warming. In two of the models, several million square kilometers of winter sea ice are lost within only one decade. It is shown that neither surface albedo nor cloud feedbacks can explain the rapid winter ice loss in the climate model MPI-ESM by suppressing both feedbacks in the model. The authors argue that the large sensitivity of winter sea ice area in the models is caused by the asymmetry between melting and freezing: an ice-free summer requires the complete melt of even the thickest sea ice, which is why the perennial ice coverage decreases only gradually as more and more of the thinner ice melts away. In winter, however, sea ice areal coverage remains high as long as sea ice still forms, and then drops to zero wherever the ocean warms sufficiently to no longer form ice during winter. The loss of basinwide Arctic winter sea ice area, however, is still gradual in most models since the threshold mechanism proposed here is reversible and not associated with the existence of multiple steady states. As this occurs in every model analyzed here and is independent of any specific parameterization, it is likely to be relevant in the real world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2703-2719
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Albedo
  • Arctic
  • Atm/Ocean Structure/Phenomena
  • Climate change
  • Clouds
  • Geographic location/entity
  • Ice loss/growth
  • Physical Meteorology and Climatology
  • Sea ice


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