National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

Seasonal transition dates can reveal biases in Arctic sea ice simulations

Smith, A., A. Jahn, and M. Wang

Cryosphere, 14, 2977–2997, doi: 10.5194/tc-14-2977-2020, View online (2020)

Arctic sea ice experiences a dramatic annual cycle, and seasonal ice loss and growth can be characterized by various metrics: melt onset, breakup, opening, freeze onset, freeze-up, and closing. By evaluating a range of seasonal sea ice metrics, CMIP6 sea ice simulations can be evaluated in more detail than by using traditional metrics alone, such as sea ice area. We show that models capture the observed asymmetry in seasonal sea ice transitions, with spring ice loss taking about 1–2 months longer than fall ice growth. The largest impacts of internal variability are seen in the inflow regions for melt and freeze onset dates, but all metrics show pan-Arctic model spreads exceeding the internal variability range, indicating the contribution of model differences. Through climate model evaluation in the context of both observations and internal variability, we show that biases in seasonal transition dates can compensate for other unrealistic aspects of simulated sea ice. In some models, this leads to September sea ice areas in agreement with observations for the wrong reasons.

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