AbstractObservations show that the Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking at an unprecedented rate since the 1970s. Even though the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been closely linked with the loss of the Arctic sea ice, the role of atmospheric aerosols in the past and future Arctic climate change remains elusive. Using a state-of-the-art fully coupled climate model, we assess the equilibrium responses of the Arctic sea ice to the different aerosol emission scenarios and investigate the pathways aerosols impose their influence in the Arctic. Our sensitivity experiments show that the impacts of aerosol perturbations on the pace of sea ice melt are effectively modulated the ocean circulation and atmospheric feedbacks. Because of the contrasting evolutions of particulate pollution in the developed and developing countries since the 1970s, the opposite aerosol forcings from different mid-latitude regions are nearly canceled out in the Arctic during the boreal summer, resulting in a muted aerosol effect on the recent sea ice changes. Consequently the greenhouse forcing alone can largely explain the observed Arctic sea ice loss till present. In the next few decades, the projected alleviation of particulate pollution in the Northern Hemisphere can contribute up to 20% of the total Arctic sea ice loss and 0.7 °C surface warming over the Arctic. Our model simulations further show that aerosol microphysical effects on the Arctic clouds are the major component in the total aerosol radiative forcing over the Arctic. Compared to the aerosol induced energy imbalance in lower latitudes outside the Arctic, the local radiative forcing by aerosol variations within the Arctic, either due to local emissions or long-range transports, is more efficient in determining the sea ice changes and the Arctic climate change.
Journal of Climate – American Meteorological Society
Published: Oct 2, 2017
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