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Netherlands Polar Data Center

Publication - Time-Dependent Variations in the Arctic’s Surface Albedo Feedback and the Link to Seasonality in Sea Ice

Abstract

The Arctic is warming 2 to 3 times faster than the global average. Arctic sea ice cover is very sensitive to this warming and has reached historic minima in late summer in recent years (e.g., 2007 and 2012). Considering that the Arctic Ocean is mainly ice covered and that the albedo of sea ice is very high compared to that of open water, any change in sea ice cover will have a strong impact on the climate response through the radiative surface albedo feedback. Since sea ice area is projected to shrink considerably, this feedback will likely vary considerably in time. Feedbacks are usually evaluated as being constant in time, even though feedbacks and climate sensitivity depend on the climate state. Here the authors assess and quantify these temporal changes in the strength of the surface albedo feedback in response to global warming. Analyses unequivocally demonstrate that the strength of the surface albedo feedback exhibits considerable temporal variations. Specifically, the strength of the surface albedo feedback in the Arctic, evaluated for simulations of the future climate (CMIP5 RCP8.5) using a kernel method, shows a distinct peak around the year 2100. This maximum is found to be linked to increased seasonality in sea ice cover when sea ice recedes, in which sea ice retreat during spring turns out to be the dominant factor affecting the strength of the annual surface albedo feedback in the Arctic. Hence, changes in sea ice seasonality and the associated fluctuations in surface albedo feedback strength will exert a time-varying effect on Arctic amplification during the projected warming over the next century.

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