National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2015

Projected future duration of the sea-ice-free season in the Alaskan Arctic

Wang, M., and J.E. Overland

Prog. Oceanogr., 136, 50–59, doi: 10.1016/j.pocean.2015.01.001 (2015)

Global warming and continued reduction in sea ice cover will result in longer open water duration in the Arctic, which is important for the shipping industry, marine mammals, and other components of the regional ecosystem. In this study we assess the length of open water duration in the Alaskan Arctic over the next few decades using the set of latest coupled climate models (CMIP5). The Alaskan Arctic, including the Chukchi and the Beaufort Sea, has been a major region of summer sea ice retreat since 2007. Thirty five climate models from CMIP5 are evaluated and twelve are selected for composite projections based on their historical simulation performance. In the regions north of the Bering Strait (north of 70° N), future open-water duration shifts from a current 3–4 months to a projected near 5 months by 2040 based on the mean of the twelve selected climate models. There is considerable north–south gradient in projected durations. Open water duration is about 1 month shorter along the same latitudes in the Beaufort Sea compared with that in the Chukchi Sea. Uncertainty is generally ±1 month estimated from the range of model results. Open-water duration in the Alaskan Arctic expands quickly in these models over the next decades which will impact regional economic access and potentially alter ecosystems. Yet the northern Alaskan Arctic from January through May will remain sea ice covered into the second half of the century due to normal lack of sunlight.

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