National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2019

Diminishing Arctic sea ice promotes stronger surface winds

Mioduszewski, J., S. Vavrus, and M. Wang

J. Climate, 31(19), 8101–8119, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0109.1, View online (2018)

Projections of Arctic sea ice through the end of the twenty-first century indicate the likelihood of a strong reduction in ice area and thickness in all seasons, leading to a substantial thermodynamic influence on the overlying atmosphere. This is likely to have an effect on winds over the Arctic basin because of changes in atmospheric stability, surface roughness, and/or baroclinicity. Here we identify patterns of wind changes in all seasons across the Arctic and their likely causal mechanisms, particularly those associated with sea ice loss. Output from the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble Project (CESM-LE) was analyzed for the recent past (primarily 1971–2000) and future (2071–2100). Mean near-surface wind speeds over the Arctic Ocean are projected to increase by late century in all seasons but especially during autumn and winter, when they strengthen by up to 50% locally. The most extreme wind speeds in the 95th percentile change even more, increasing in frequency by up to 100%. The strengthened winds are closely linked to decreasing surface roughness and lower-tropospheric stability resulting from the loss of sea ice cover and consequent surface warming (exceeding 20°C warmer in the central Arctic in autumn and winter), as well as local changes in the storm track. The implications of stronger future winds include increased coastal and navigational hazards. Our findings suggest that increasing winds, along with reduction of sea ice, rising sea level, and thawing permafrost, represent another important contributor to the growing problem of Arctic coastal erosion.

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