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Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Polar Amplification

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Session Description: 

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average temperature. With this temperature change, the areal extent and thickness of the polar sea ice is being radically altered. As this process continues, more Arctic Ocean is exposed to direct warming from the sun due to its darkness compared to the reflectivity of sea-ice. In addition, the warmer temperatures are altering high-latitude snow and ice on land, further darkening higher latitudes. How these rapid changes will affect the Arctic region is critical to understand, though the significance of this understanding extends beyond the region since changes in the Arctic are increasingly understood to interact with the climate system of the Earth as a whole via atmospheric circulation and ocean currents. In particular, as climate change continues understanding how changes in the Arctic will affect weather and climate of the northern continents is a critical and timely question. Improved understanding of the mechanisms of teleconnection in these systems will shed light on how the Earth’s climate system works as it departs further from the norms of the 20th century. Patterns of behavior such as the typical position of the jet stream, the shape and persistence of the polar vortex are examples of how an Arctic change may be shown to dramatically affect lower latitude conditions. The ability to model these changes has the potential to better describe future climate and its ecological and societal impacts as the century unfolds.

Much attention has been focused recently on the potential impacts of Arctic sea-ice loss upon mid-latitude weather, with possible significant societal implications. However, this influence does not occur in isolation from the rest of the global coupled climate system and other aspects of human-induced climate change. Indeed, there are vigorous two-way interactions between the tropics and higher latitudes, and other consequences of climate change besides how Arctic sea-ice loss affects mid-latitude weather. To make progress, it is imperative to consider the larger context of the causes and consequences of polar amplification in the global climate system, and examine connections between the faster pace of warming in the polar regions compared to lower latitudes.

This workshop is structured around key scientific questions:
• What are the drivers and mechanisms of polar amplification and its climate effects?
• How do the polar regions communicate with the tropics?
• What is the relative importance of sea-ice loss versus other climate change signals in polar amplification?
• What are the roles of the ocean and stratosphere in driving and responding to polar amplification?
• How do we interpret the short observational record in light of natural variability and forced climate change?
• Do models simulate the correct characteristics and magnitudes of natural variability and response to external forcings?
• What coordinated numerical experiments are needed to make further progress?

Workshop Topic (s): 
  • Atmospheric Composition
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Climate Variability and Change (including Climate Modeling)
  • Human Contributions & Responses