September Arctic sea ice extent over the period of satellite observations has a strong downward trend, accompanied by pronounced interannual variability with a detrended 1 year lag autocorrelation of essentially zero. We argue that through a combination of thinning and associated processes related to a warming climate (a stronger albedo feedback, a longer melt season, the lack of especially cold winters) the downward trend itself is steepening. The lack of autocorrelation manifests both the inherent large variability in summer atmospheric circulation patterns and that oceanic heat loss in winter acts as a negative (stabilizing) feedback, albeit insufficient to counter the steepening trend. These findings have implications for seasonal ice forecasting. In particular, while advances in observing sea ice thickness and assimilating thickness into coupled forecast systems have improved forecast skill, there remains an inherent limit to predictability owing to the largely chaotic nature of atmospheric variability.
As assessed over the period of satellite observations, October 1978 to present, there are downward linear trends in Arctic sea ice extent for all months, largest at the end of the melt season in September. The ice cover is also thinning. Downward trends in extent and thickness have been accompanied by pronounced interannual and multiyear variability, forced by both the atmosphere and ocean. As the ice thins, its response to atmospheric and oceanic forcing may be changing. In support of a busier Arctic, there is a growing need to predict ice conditions on a variety of time and space scales. A major challenge to providing seasonal scale predictions is the 7-10 days limit of numerical weather prediction. While a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean is likely well within this century, there is much uncertainty in the timing. This reflects differences in climate model structure, the unknown evolution of anthropogenic forcing, and natural climate variability. In sharp contrast to the Arctic, Antarctic sea ice extent, while highly variable, has increased slightly over the period of satellite observations. The reasons for this different behavior remain to be resolved, but responses to changing atmospheric circulation patterns appear to play a strong role.
The Earth's atmosphere has a natural greenhouse effect, without which the global mean surface temperature would be about 33 degrees C lower and life would not be possible. Human activities have increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases in trace amounts. This has enhanced the greenhouse effect, resulting in surface warming. Were it not for the partly offsetting effects of increased aerosol concentrations, the increase in global mean surface temperature over the past 100 years would be larger than observed. Continued surface warming through the 21st century is inevitable and will likely have widespread ecological impacts. The magnitude and rate of warming for the global average will be largely dictated by the strength and direction of climate feedbacks, thermal inertia of the oceans, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, and aerosol concentrations. Because of regional expressions of climate feedbacks, changes in atmospheric circulation, and a suite of other factors, the magnitude and rate of warming and changes in other key climate elements, such as precipitation, will not be uniform across the planet. For example, due to loss of its floating sea-ice cover, the Arctic will warm the most.