Recent advances in understanding the Arctic climate system state and change from a sea ice perspective: a review
Abstract. Sea ice is the central component and most sensitive indicator of the Arctic climate system. Both the depletion and areal decline of the Arctic sea ice cover, observed since the 1970s, have accelerated since the millennium. While the relationship of global warming to sea ice reduction is evident and underpinned statistically, it is the connecting mechanisms that are explored in detail in this review.
Sea ice erodes both from the top and the bottom. Atmospheric, oceanic and sea ice processes interact in non-linear ways on various scales. Feedback mechanisms lead to an Arctic amplification of the global warming system: the amplification is both supported by the ice depletion and, at the same time, accelerates ice reduction. Knowledge of the mechanisms of sea ice decline grew during the 1990s and deepened when the acceleration became clear in the early 2000s. Record minimum summer sea ice extents in 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2012 provide additional information on the mechanisms.
This article reviews recent progress in understanding the sea ice decline. Processes are revisited from atmospheric, oceanic and sea ice perspectives. There is strong evidence that decisive atmospheric changes are the major driver of sea ice change. Feedbacks due to reduced ice concentration, surface albedo, and ice thickness allow for additional local atmospheric and oceanic influences and self-supporting feedbacks. Large-scale ocean influences on Arctic Ocean hydrology and circulation are highly evident. Northward heat fluxes in the ocean are clearly impacting the ice margins, especially in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic. There is little indication of a direct and decisive influence of the warming ocean on the overall sea ice cover, due to an isolating layer of cold and fresh water underneath the sea ice.