skip to main content

Title: Understanding the Forecast Skill of Rapid Arctic Sea Ice Loss on Subseasonal Time Scales
Abstract The predictability of sea ice during extreme sea ice loss events on subseasonal (daily to weekly) time scales is explored in dynamical forecast models. These extreme sea ice loss events (defined as the 5th percentile of the 5-day change in sea ice extent) exhibit substantial regional and seasonal variability; in the central Arctic Ocean basin, most subseasonal rapid ice loss occurs in the summer, but in the marginal seas rapid sea ice loss occurs year-round. Dynamical forecast models are largely able to capture the seasonality of these extreme sea ice loss events. In most regions in the summertime, sea ice forecast skill is lower on extreme sea ice loss days than on nonextreme days, despite evidence that links these extreme events to large-scale atmospheric patterns; in the wintertime, the difference between extreme and nonextreme days is less pronounced. In a damped anomaly forecast benchmark estimate, the forecast error remains high following extreme sea ice loss events and does not return to typical error levels for many weeks; this signal is less robust in the dynamical forecast models but still present. Overall, these results suggest that sea ice forecast skill is generally lower during and after extreme sea ice loss events and also that, while dynamical forecast models are capable of simulating extreme sea ice loss events with similar characteristics to what we observe, forecast skill from dynamical models is limited by biases in mean state and variability and errors in the initialization. Significance Statement We studied weather model forecasts of changes in Arctic sea ice extent on day-to-day time scales in different regions and seasons. We were especially interested in extreme sea ice loss days, or days in which sea ice melts very quickly or is reduced due to diverging forces such as winds, ocean currents, and waves. We find that forecast models generally capture the observed timing of extreme sea ice loss days. We also find that forecasts of sea ice extent are worse on extreme sea ice loss days compared to typical days, and that forecast errors remain elevated following extreme sea ice loss events.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Climate
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Prediction systems to enable Earth system predictability research on the subseasonal time scale have been developed with the Community Earth System Model, version 2 (CESM2) using two configurations that differ in their atmospheric components. One system uses the Community Atmosphere Model, version 6 (CAM6) with its top near 40 km, referred to as CESM2(CAM6). The other employs the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model, version 6 (WACCM6) whose top extends to ∼140 km, and it includes fully interactive tropospheric and stratospheric chemistry [CESM2(WACCM6)]. Both systems are utilized to carry out subseasonal reforecasts for the 1999–2020 period following the Subseasonal Experiment’s (SubX) protocol. Subseasonal prediction skill from both systems is compared to those of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration CFSv2 and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) operational models. CESM2(CAM6) and CESM2(WACCM6) show very similar subseasonal prediction skill of 2-m temperature, precipitation, the Madden–Julian oscillation, and North Atlantic Oscillation to its previous version and to the NOAA CFSv2 model. Overall, skill of CESM2(CAM6) and CESM2(WACCM6) is a little lower than that of the ECMWF system. In addition to typical output provided by subseasonal prediction systems, CESM2 reforecasts provide comprehensive datasets for predictability research of multiple Earth system components, including three-dimensional output for many variables, and output specific to the mesosphere and lower-thermosphere (MLT) region from CESM2(WACCM6). It is shown that sudden stratosphere warming events, and the associated variability in the MLT, can be predicted ∼10 days in advance. Weekly real-time forecasts and reforecasts with CESM2(CAM6) and CESM2(WACCM6) are freely available.

    Significance Statement

    We describe here the design and prediction skill of two subseasonal prediction systems based on two configurations of the Community Earth System Model, version 2 (CESM2): CESM2 with the Community Atmosphere Model, version 6 [CESM2(CAM6)] and CESM 2 with Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model, version 6 [CESM2(WACCM6)] as its atmospheric component. These two systems provide a foundation for community-model based subseasonal prediction research. The CESM2(WACCM6) system provides a novel capability to explore the predictability of the stratosphere, mesosphere, and lower thermosphere. Both CESM2(CAM6) and CESM2(WACCM6) demonstrate subseasonal surface prediction skill comparable to that of the NOAA CFSv2 model, and a little lower than that of the ECMWF forecasting system. CESM2 reforecasts provide a comprehensive dataset for predictability research of multiple aspects of the Earth system, including the whole atmosphere up to 140 km, land, and sea ice. Weekly real-time forecasts, reforecasts, and models are publicly available.

    more » « less
  2. Antarctic sea ice prediction has garnered increasing attention in recent years, particularly in the context of the recent record lows of February 2022 and 2023. As Antarctica becomes a climate change hotspot, as polar tourism booms, and as scientific expeditions continue to explore this remote continent, the capacity to anticipate sea ice conditions weeks to months in advance is in increasing demand. Spurred by recent studies that uncovered physical mechanisms of Antarctic sea ice predictability and by the intriguing large variations of the observed sea ice extent in recent years, the Sea Ice Prediction Network South (SIPN South) project was initiated in 2017, building upon the Arctic Sea Ice Prediction Network. The SIPN South project annually coordinates spring-to-summer predictions of Antarctic sea ice conditions, to allow robust evaluation and intercomparison, and to guide future development in polar prediction systems. In this paper, we present and discuss the initial SIPN South results collected over six summer seasons (December-February 2017-2018 to 2022-2023). We use data from 22 unique contributors spanning five continents that have together delivered more than 3000 individual forecasts of sea ice area and concentration. The SIPN South median forecast of the circumpolar sea ice area captures the sign of the recent negative anomalies, and the verifying observations are systematically included in the 10-90% range of the forecast distribution. These statements also hold at the regional level except in the Ross Sea where the systematic biases and the ensemble spread are the largest. A notable finding is that the group forecast, constructed by aggregating the data provided by each contributor, outperforms most of the individual forecasts, both at the circumpolar and regional levels. This indicates the value of combining predictions to average out model-specific errors. Finally, we find that dynamical model predictions (i.e., based on process-based general circulation models) generally perform worse than statistical model predictions (i.e., data-driven empirical models including machine learning) in representing the regional variability of sea ice concentration in summer. SIPN South is a collaborative community project that is hosted on a shared public repository. The forecast and verification data used in SIPN South are publicly available in near-real time for further use by the polar research community, and eventually, policymakers. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract Anthropogenic warming has led to an unprecedented year-round reduction in Arctic sea ice extent. This has far-reaching consequences for indigenous and local communities, polar ecosystems, and global climate, motivating the need for accurate seasonal sea ice forecasts. While physics-based dynamical models can successfully forecast sea ice concentration several weeks ahead, they struggle to outperform simple statistical benchmarks at longer lead times. We present a probabilistic, deep learning sea ice forecasting system, IceNet. The system has been trained on climate simulations and observational data to forecast the next 6 months of monthly-averaged sea ice concentration maps. We show that IceNet advances the range of accurate sea ice forecasts, outperforming a state-of-the-art dynamical model in seasonal forecasts of summer sea ice, particularly for extreme sea ice events. This step-change in sea ice forecasting ability brings us closer to conservation tools that mitigate risks associated with rapid sea ice loss. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract We assess to what extent seven state-of-the-art dynamical prediction systems can retrospectively predict winter sea surface temperature (SST) in the subpolar North Atlantic and the Nordic seas in the period 1970–2005. We focus on the region where warm water flows poleward (i.e., the Atlantic water pathway to the Arctic) and on interannual-to-decadal time scales. Observational studies demonstrate predictability several years in advance in this region, but we find that SST skill is low with significant skill only at a lead time of 1–2 years. To better understand why the prediction systems have predictive skill or lack thereof, we assess the skill of the systems to reproduce a spatiotemporal SST pattern based on observations. The physical mechanism underlying this pattern is a propagation of oceanic anomalies from low to high latitudes along the major currents, the North Atlantic Current and the Norwegian Atlantic Current. We find that the prediction systems have difficulties in reproducing this pattern. To identify whether the misrepresentation is due to incorrect model physics, we assess the respective uninitialized historical simulations. These simulations also tend to misrepresent the spatiotemporal SST pattern, indicating that the physical mechanism is not properly simulated. However, the representation of the pattern is slightly degraded in the predictions compared to historical runs, which could be a result of initialization shocks and forecast drift effects. Ways to enhance predictions could include improved initialization and better simulation of poleward circulation of anomalies. This might require model resolutions in which flow over complex bathymetry and the physics of mesoscale ocean eddies and their interactions with the atmosphere are resolved. Significance Statement In this study, we find that dynamical prediction systems and their respective climate models struggle to realistically represent ocean surface temperature variability in the eastern subpolar North Atlantic and Nordic seas on interannual-to-decadal time scales. In previous studies, ocean advection is proposed as a key mechanism in propagating temperature anomalies along the Atlantic water pathway toward the Arctic Ocean. Our analysis suggests that the predicted temperature anomalies are not properly circulated to the north; this is a result of model errors that seems to be exacerbated by the effect of initialization shocks and forecast drift. Better climate predictions in the study region will thus require improving the initialization step, as well as enhancing process representation in the climate models. 
    more » « less
  5. Impacts of a warming climate are amplified in the Arctic. One notorious impact is recent and record-breaking summertime sea-ice loss. Expanding areas of open water and a prolonged ice-free season create opportunity for some industries but challenge indigenous peoples relying on sea ice for transportation and access to food. The observed and projected increase of Arctic maritime activity requires accurate sea-ice forecasts to protect life, environment, and property. Motivated by emerging prediction needs on the operational timescale (≤10 days), this study explores where local indigenous knowledge (LIK) fits into the forecaster toolbox and how it can be woven into useful sea-ice information products. The 2011 spring ice retreat season in the Bering Sea is presented as a forecasting case study. LIK, housed in a database of community-based ice and weather logs, and an ice-ocean forecast model developed by the US Navy are analyzed for their ability to provide information relevant to stakeholder needs. Additionally, metrics for verifying numerical sea-ice forecasts on multiple scales are derived. The model exhibits skill relative to persistence and climatology on the regional scale. At the community scale, we discuss how LIK and new model guidance can enhance public sea-ice information resources. 
    more » « less