Over the past decade, severe winters occurred frequently in mid-latitude Eurasia, despite increasing global- and annual-mean surface air temperatures. Observations suggest that these cold Eurasian winters could have been instigated by Arctic sea-ice decline, through excitation of circulation anomalies similar to the Arctic Oscillation. In climate simulations, however, a robust atmospheric response to sea-ice decline has not been found, perhaps owing to energetic internal fluctuations in the atmospheric circulation. Here we use a 100-member ensemble of simulations with an atmospheric general circulation model driven by observation-based sea-ice concentration anomalies to show that as a result of sea-ice reduction in the Barents-Kara Sea, the probability of severe winters has more than doubled in central Eurasia. In our simulations, the atmospheric response to sea-ice decline is approximately independent of the Arctic Oscillation. Both reanalysis data and our simulations suggest that sea-ice decline leads to more frequent Eurasian blocking situations, which in turn favour cold-air advection to Eurasia and hence severe winters. Based on a further analysis of simulations from 22 climate models we conclude that the sea-ice-driven cold winters are unlikely to dominate in a warming future climate, although uncertainty remains, due in part to an insufficient ensemble size.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)