Mathematical Geophysics Research Spotlight

Atlantic Sea Ice Could Grow in the Next Decade

Changing ocean circulation in the North Atlantic could lead to winter sea ice coverage remaining steady and even growing in select regions.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters


The massive conveyor belts of the ocean and atmosphere transfer energy around the globe and drive Earth’s climate. Improved models and increases in computer power are starting to allow scientists to get a better glimpse of future surface conditions in the Atlantic by taking into account changes in the ocean heat conveyor. The ocean’s influence on sea ice is not obvious, but in a new study, Yeager et al. argue that it plays a key role in accurate projections of sea ice.

The researchers analyzed simulations from the Community Earth System Model, modeling both atmosphere and ocean circulation. They found that decadal-scale trends in Arctic winter sea ice extent are largely explained by changes in ocean circulation rather than by large-scale external factors like anthropogenic warming.

The team emphasized the influence of the thermohaline circulation (THC), a global current that carries heat around the planet and that experts believe has been slowing down in the Atlantic since about 2000. Although anthropogenic warming may produce a long-term global temperature rise, the THC slowdown contributes to short-term cooling in the subpolar Atlantic and, consequently, a decline in the ice melt rate. The researchers make the connection between these circulation changes and satellite observations taken between 2005 and 2015 that show a positive trend in winter ice cover. In other words, slowing circulation hinders heat transport to the North Atlantic, allowing surface waters to stay cool and sea ice to expand.

Ultimately, the rise of global temperatures will generate a loss of sea ice cover over the coming century. This study is a stepping-stone toward the ultimate goal of decadal climate prediction, which is vital to understanding and anticipating the short-term trends and changes that communities will be tackling in the near future. (Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2015GL065364, 2015)

—Lily Strelich, Freelance Writer

Citation: Strelich, L. (2016), Atlantic sea ice could grow in the next decade, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO044955. Published on 4 February 2016.

© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
  • jeltez42

    I just wish for an honest discussion on climate variability. What we don’t know about our climate and atmosphere is far greater than what we know. Global warming is not settled science and the very limited, poorly coded models are better than nothing, but not by much.
    Just remember when you hear something related to a climate event being the most/worst EVER, it usually means EVER started in 1950 when scientific instruments started coming into their own and were able to accurately and consistently able to record data. The late 70s, Landsat era kicked off another EVER period, polar ice EVER IS 1969-72. The biggest revolution has come in the last 7 years with the newest satelites and the VanAllen belt probes.
    Do we need to concern ourselves over climate variation, yes we do. Can we stop it, no we cannot. Keep in mind the Sphinx shows signs of erosion by water while whale and other sea life remains are in what is now the Sahara because every 20,000 years or so the climate changes from desert to tropical, wet forested lands. This changeover is thought to take 300 years or so.
    Science and humankind cannot move forward when people consider science settled.

    • manny_thome

      Just because we don’t know everything about AGW doesn’t mean we don’t know anything.

      The fact that the Sahara experienced monsoons 9000-10,500 years ago doesn’t mean that we don’t understand current climate variations.

      • 00Le_Gin00

        Understanding variation is one thing, but understanding it in the context longer term (1k to 8k years) variation is another.
        Alarmists like to show the variation over small timescales, which is almost meaningless in the longer term context.

  • justinburch505

    I thought Al Gore said all the ice would be gone by now?

    • harkin

      Just during the summer, but he was still way way wrong.

    • rsbsail

      I thought the science was settled!

    • 00Le_Gin00

      It is…if you don’t see…