Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 24 Issue 03

View Issue TOC
Volume 24, No. 3
Pages 176 - 185


Potential Arctic Change Through Climate Amplification Processes

By James E. Overland  
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

Could a gradual warming trend, combined with a large atmospheric or oceanic event, and mediated by Arctic-specific feedbacks, lead to persistent changes in Arctic climate? Several recent observed shifts follow this pattern: they are large, they occur across the Earth system, they are happening decades earlier than suggested by climate models, and while they may or may not be irreversible, they at least carry multiple-year memory (i.e., they are longer than the extreme event that was their proximate cause). When the 2007 summer sea ice minimum occurred, Arctic temperatures had been rising and sea ice had been decreasing over the previous two decades. Nevertheless, it took an unusually persistent southerly wind pattern over the summer months, and perhaps ocean transport and other factors, to initiate the loss event. The abrupt warming and associated record ice loss in West Greenland in 2010 also fit this hypothesis, initiated by southerly winds associated with an unusual manifestation of a natural climate pattern, the North Atlantic Oscillation. Extensive forest fires are causing deep burning of the soil layer, changing the carbon response of Arctic landmasses with lasting effects. Anomalous atmospheric circulation patterns in winter 2009–2010 and December 2010 linked cold-air outbreaks from the Arctic with mid-latitudes. While continued anthropogenic forcing predicts continued temperature increases and sea ice loss, these larger variations or “surprises” introduce uncertainties in the timing and magnitude of future Arctic shifts, the degree to which they are reversible or not, and how they will influence future local and global climate. Climate models, while imperfect, can be run multiple times, in series that are called “ensemble members,” to capture a range of potential responses to randomly occurring extreme events combined with continuing anthropogenic warming trends.


Overland, J.E. 2011. Potential Arctic change through climate amplification processes. Oceanography 24(3):176–185, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2011.70.


ACIA. 2005. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge University Press, New York. 1,044 pp.

Axford, Y., J.P. Briner, G.H. Miller, and D.R. Francis. 2009. Paleoecological evidence for abrupt cold reversals during peak Holocene warmth on Baffin Island, Arctic Canada. Quaternary Research 71(2):142–149, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yqres.2008.09.006.

Budikova, D. 2009. Role of Arctic sea ice in global atmospheric circulation: A review. Global and Planetary Change 68:149–163, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2009.04.001.

Callaghan, T.V., F. Bergholm, T.R. Christensen, C. Jonasson, U. Kokfelt, and M. Johansson. 2010. A new climate era in the sub‐Arctic: Accelerating climate changes and multiple impacts. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L14705, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009GL042064.

Cattiaux, J., R. Vautard, C. Cassou, P. Yiou, V. Masson-Delmotte, and F. Codron. 2010. Winter 2010 in Europe: A cold extreme in a warming climate. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L20704, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL044613.

Chapman, W.L., and J.E. Walsh. 2007. Simulations of Arctic temperature and pressure by global coupled models. Journal of Climate 20:609–632, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI4026.1.

Comiso, J.C., C.L. Parkinson, R. Gersten, and L. Stock. 2006. Accelerated decline in the Arctic sea ice cover. Geophysical Research Letters 35, L01703, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL031972.

Deser, C., R. Tomas, M. Alexander, and D. Lawrence. 2010. The seasonal atmospheric response to projected Arctic sea ice loss in the late 21st century. Journal of Climate 23:333–351, https://doi.org/10.1175/2009JCLI3053.1.

Dickson, R.R. 2002. Variability at all scales and its effect on the ecosystem: An overview. Proceedings of the ICES Historical Symposium, Helsinki, August 2000. ICES Marine Science Symposium Series 215:219–232.

Döscher, R., K. Wyser, M. Meier, R. Qian, and G. Redler. 2009. Quantifying Arctic contributions to climate predictability in a regional coupled ocean-ice-atmosphere model. Climate Dynamics 34:1,157–1,176, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-009-0567-y.

Eisenman, I., N. Untersteiner, and J.S. Wettlaufer. 2008. Reply to comment by E.T. DeWeaver et al.: “On the reliability of simulated Arctic sea ice in global climate models.” Geophysical Research Letters 35, L04502, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL032173.

Fettweis, X., G. Mabille, M. Erpicum, S. Nicolay, and M. Van den Broeke. 2010. The 1958–2009 Greenland ice sheet surface melt and the mid-tropospheric atmospheric circulation. Climate Dynamics 36:139–159, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-010-0772-8.

Fitzpatrick, J.J., R.B. Alley, J. Brigham-Grette, G.H. Miller, L. Polyak, and J.W.C. White. 2010. Arctic paleoclimate synthesis thematic papers. Quaternary Science Reviews 29(15–16):1,674–1,790, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.09.016.

Gascard, J.-C., J. Festy, H. le Goff, M. Weber, B. Bruemmer, M. Offermann, M. Doble, P. Wadhams, R. Forsberg, S. Hanson, and others. 2008. Exploring Arctic transpolar drift during dramatic sea ice retreat. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 89:21–22, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008EO030001.

Giles, K.A., S.W. Laxon, and A.L. Ridout. 2008. Circumpolar thinning of Arctic sea ice following the 2007 record ice extent minimum. Geophysical Research Letters 35, L22502, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008GL035710.

Goosse, H., O. Arzel, C.M. Bitz, A. de Montety, and M. Vancoppenolle. 2009. Increased variability of the Arctic summer ice extent in a warmer climate. Geophysical Research Letters 36, L23702, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009GL040546.

Graversen, R.G., and M. Wang. 2009. Polar amplification in a coupled climate model with locked albedo. Climate Dynamics 33:629–643, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-009-0535-6.

Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo. 2010. Global surface temperature change. Reviews of Geophysics 48, RG4004, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010RG000345.

Inoue, J., and M.E. Hori. 2011. Arctic cyclogenesis at the marginal ice zone: A contributory mechanism for the temperature amplification? Geophysical Research Letters 38, L12502, https://doi.org/10.1029/2011GL047696.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller, eds, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, 996 pp.

Jackson, J.M., E. Carmack, F. McLaughlin, S. Allem, and R. Ingram. 2010. Identification, characterization and change of the near-surface temperature maximum in the Canada Basin. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, C05021, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JC005265.

Kumar, A., J. Perlwitz, J. Eischeid, X. Quan, T. Xu, T. Zhang, M. Hoerling, B. Jha, and W. Wang. 2010. Contribution of sea ice loss to Arctic amplification. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L21701, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL045022.

Kwok, R., G. Cunningham, M. Wensnahan, I. Rigor, H. Zwally, and D. Yi. 2009. Thinning and volume loss of Arctic sea ice: 2003–2008. Journal of Geophysical Research 114, C07005, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JC005312.

Langen, P.L., and V.A. Alexeev. 2007. Polar amplification as a preferred response in an idealized aquaplanet GCM. Climate Dynamics 29:305–317, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-006-0221-x.

L’Heureux, M., A. Butler, B. Jha, A. Kumar, and W. Wang. 2010. Unusual extremes in the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation during 2009. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L10704, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL043338.

Manabe, S., and R.J. Stouffer. 1980. Sensitivity of a global climate model to an increase of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research 85:5,529–5,554.

Maslanik, J.A., C. Fowler, J. Stroeve, S. Drobot, J. Zwally, D. Yi, and W. Emery. 2008. A younger, thinner Arctic ice cover: Increased potential for rapid, extensive sea-ice loss. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L24501, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL032043.

Miller, G.H., R.B. Alley, J. Brigham-Grette, J.J. Fitzpatrick, L. Polyak, M. Serreze, and J.W.C. White. 2010. Arctic amplification: Can the past constrain the future? Quaternary Science Reviews 29:1,779–1,790, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2010.02.008.

Overland, J.E. 2009. The case for global warming in the Arctic. Pp. 13–23 in Influence of Climate Change on the Changing Arctic and Sub-Arctic Conditions. J.C.J. Nihoul and A.G. Kostianoy, eds, Springer, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9460-6_3.

Overland, J.E., and M. Wang. 2010. Large-scale atmospheric circulation changes are associated with the recent loss of Arctic sea ice. Tellus 62A:1–9, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0870.2009.00421.x.

Overland, J.E., M. Muyin, N.A. Bond, J.E. Walsh, V.M. Kattsov, and W.L. Chapman. 2011. Considerations in the selection of global climate models for regional climate projections: The Arctic as a case study. Journal of Climate 24:1,583–1,597, https://doi.org/10.1175/2010JCLI3462.1.

Overland, J.E., M. Wang, and S. Salo. 2008. The recent Arctic warm period. Tellus 60A:589–597, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0870.2008.00327.x.

Overland, J.E., K.R. Wood, and M. Wang. In press. Warm Arctic-cold continents: Climate impacts of the newly open Arctic sea. Polar Research.

Petoukhov, V., and V.A. Semenov. 2010. A link between reduced Barents-Kara sea ice and cold winter extremes over northern continents. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, D21111, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JD013568.

Przybylak, R. 2002. Variability of Air Temperature and Atmospheric Precipitation in the Arctic. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 330 pp.

Quadrelli, R., and J.M. Wallace. 2004. A simplified linear framework for interpreting patterns of Northern Hemisphere wintertime climate variability. Journal of Climate 17:3,728–3,744, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0442(2004)017<3728:ASLFFI>2.0.CO;2.

Schweiger, A.J., R.W. Lindsay, S. Vavrus, and J.A. Francis. 2008. Relationships between Arctic sea ice and clouds during autumn. Journal of Climate 21:4,799–4,810, https://doi.org/10.1175/2008JCLI2156.1.

Screen, J.A., and I. Simmonds. 2010. Increasing fall-winter energy loss from the Arctic Ocean and its role in Arctic temperature amplification. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L16707, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL044136.

Seager, R., Y. Kushnir, J. Nakamura, M. Ting, and N. Naik. 2010. Northern Hemisphere winter snow anomalies: ENSO, NAO and the winter of 2009/10. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L14703, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL043830.

Seierstad, I.A., and J. Bader. 2008. Impact of a projected future Arctic sea ice reduction on extratropical storminess and the NAO. Climate Dynamics, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-008-0463-x.

Semenov, V.A. 2008. Influence of oceanic inflow to the Barents Sea on climate variability in the Arctic region. Doklady Earth Sciences 418:91–94, https://doi.org/10.1134/S1028334X08010200.

Serreze, M.C. 2010. Understanding recent climate change. Conservation Biology 24(1):10–17, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01408.x.

Serreze, M.C., A.P. Barrett, J.C. Stroeve, D.N. Kindig, and M.M. Holland. 2008. The emergence of surface-based Arctic amplification. The Cryosphere Discussions 2:601–622, https://doi.org/10.5194/tcd-2-601-2008.

Singarayer, J.S., J.L. Bamber, and P.J. Valdes. 2006. Twenty-first-century climate impacts from a declining Arctic sea ice cover. Journal of Climate 19:1,109–1,125, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI3649.1.

Sokolova, E., K. Dethloff, A. Rinke, and A. Benkel. 2007. Planetary and synoptic scale adjustment of the Arctic atmosphere to sea ice cover changes. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L17816, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL030218.

Steele, M., J. Zhang, and W. Ermold. 2010. Mechanisms of summertime upper Arctic Ocean warming and the effect on sea ice melt. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, C11004, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JC005849.

Stroeve, J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze. 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L09501, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL029703.

Stroeve, J., M. Serreze, S. Drobot, S. Gearheard, M. Holland, J. Maslanik, W. Meier, and T. Scambos. 2008. Arctic sea ice extent plummets in 2007. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 89:13–14, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008EO020001.

Stroeve, J., M. Serreze, M. Holland, J. Kay, J. Maslanik, and A. Barrett. 2011. The Arctic’s rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: A research synthesis. 2011. Climatic Change, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-011-0101-1.

Sumata, H., and K. Shimada. 2007. Northward transport of pacific summer water along the Northwind Ridge in the western Arctic Ocean. Journal of Oceanography 63:363–378, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10872-007-0035-4.

Tietsche, S., D. Notz, J.H. Jungclaus, and J. Marotzke. 2011. Recovery mechanisms of Arctic summer sea ice. Geophysical Research Letters 38, L02707, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL045698.

Turetsky, M.R., E.S. Kane, J.W. Harden, R.D. Ottmar, K.L. Manies, E. Hoy, and E.S. Kasischke. 2011. Recent acceleration of biomass burning and carbon losses in Alaskan forests and peatlands. Nature Geosciences 4:27–31, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1027.

Vörösmarty, C., L. Hinzman, and J. Pundsack. 2008. Introduction to special section on changes in the Arctic freshwater system: Identification, attribution, and impacts at local and global scales. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, G01S91, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007JG000615.

Wang, J., J. Zhang, E. Watanabe, M. Ikeda, K. Mizobata, J. E. Walsh, X. Bai, and B. Wu. 2009. Is the Dipole Anomaly a major driver to record lows in Arctic summer sea ice extent? Geophysical Research Letters 36, L05706, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008GL036706.

Wood, K.R., and J.E. Overland. 2010. Early 20th century Arctic warming in retrospect. International Journal of Climatology, https://doi.org/10.1002/joc.1973.

Woodgate, R.A., T. Weingartner, and R. Lindsay. 2010. The 2007 Bering Strait oceanic heat flux and anomalous Arctic sea-ice retreat. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L01602, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009GL041621.

Zhang, X., A. Sorteberg, J. Zhang, R. Gerdes, and J. Comiso. 2008. Recent radical shifts in atmospheric circulations and rapid changes in Arctic climate system. Geophysical Research Letters 35, L22701, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008GL035607.

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.