Met Office study contests relationship between melting Arctic Sea ice and UK winters

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With 16 different international climate models and more than 3,000 individual simulations collated, a Met Office-led international study could not establish a connection between melting Arctic Sea ice and UK winters.

Some previous studies – based on observations – have suggested that the melting Arctic could lead to more severe UK winters by weakening mid-latitude westerly winds. However, the Met Office has emphasized that this relationship cannot be established from observations alone. Furthermore, previous studies based on climate models were inconclusive, which has led to a long-running debate.

The Met Office paper, named ‘Robust but weak winter atmospheric circulation response to future Arctic Sea ice loss’, was published on February 7, 2022, in the journal Nature Communications. Its findings were consistent with the headline results from the UK’s Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18), which indicated that winters will on average be milder and wetter in the future. The study also found that observed relationships between Arctic Sea ice and UK winters are weaker when the latest observations are included, reconciling previous differences between observation and modeling studies.

Dr Doug Smith, the paper’s lead author, said, “Our study does show a robust weakening of the prevailing westerly winds driven by the continued decline of Arctic Sea ice, but this effect is weak when compared with year-to-year variability. In other words, Arctic Sea ice is unlikely to drive a single severe winter or to outweigh the long-term warming from greenhouse gases.”

These findings were gathered via an international initiative of coordinated modeling experiments. The Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project (PAMIP) coordinated the climate model experiments. PAMIP is co-led by the Met Office and is endorsed under Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase Six (CMIP6) – the international climate modeling initiative informing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment.

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