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Home » Understanding Arctic Sea Ice Mechanisms and Predictability

Understanding Arctic Sea Ice Mechanisms and Predictability


The climate in the Arctic is rapidly changing, especially with regard to increasing temperatures and declining sea ice. These changes could adversely affect fisheries, ecosystem management, industry, national security, and human health and wellbeing. In light of these challenges, NOAA is aggressively pursuing better observations, understanding, and modeling to support decisionmaking in the Arctic, and has developed the NOAA Arctic Action Plan to elaborate on how these improvements can be achieved.
A recent CVP competition sought proposals that investigated sea ice mechanisms in order to build foundational knowledge of how and why sea ice forms, expands, and contracts. This is the first step toward achieving skillful sea ice prediction from subseasonal to decadal time spans–the very first goal in the NOAA Arctic Action Plan.
NOAA’s Climate Variability and Predictability (CVP) program competitively funded 11 new three-year projects totaling $4.6 million in grants and $1.2 million in other awards to support 38 researchers, postdocs, and students at 15 institutions. These projects will conduct analysis and experimentation in a varied set of models including CMIP-5 class models from NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), as well as NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) model CFSv2.
This research is expected to increase understanding of how natural processes and climatological fields – such as linkages to tropical sea surface temperature, atmospheric rivers, snow cover, and colored dissolved organic material – can influence Arctic sea ice. New approaches, such as analog forecasting and alternate sea ice mechanics schemes, will be developed and tested to evaluate their utility in research and operational models. PIs will engage with several NOAA-related initiatives including the Sea Ice Prediction Network (SIPN) and National Unified Operational Prediction Capability (NUOPC), as well as international initiatives such as the WWRP Polar Prediction Project (PPP) to ensure research results are broadly communicated and implemented.
Observations indicate that the area covered by sea ice in the Arctic at the end of summer has declined by about 40 percent since 1979, with 2007 and 2012 reaching record lows. Understanding these changes and predicting future changes is vitally important to NOAA and the Nation as our citizens living in the Arctic are affected by increased storm intensity and increased coastal erosion. These changes also affect our future access to transportation routes, economic development in the Arctic, access to natural resources, and national security interests.
NOAA is increasingly being asked to deliver accurate sea ice forecasts to support logistical operations in the Arctic across all timescales. For example, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has asked NOAA to provide long-lead forecasts of sea ice so they can determine fall freeze-up dates to enforce cut-off dates for safe oil platform operations. All of the projects funded under this competition help NOAA develop its capability to skillfully and reliably predict regional variations and changes in Arctic sea ice on timescales of months to decades.
The 11 new projects to be funded in this CVP competition in 2015 are:

“Advancing understanding of sea ice predictability with sea ice data assimilation in a fully-coupled model with improved region-scale metrics.” Cecilia Bitz (University of Washington); Adrian Raftery (University of Washington)  [abstract]
“Seasonal to interannual variability and predictability of Arctic summertime sea ice associated with tropically forced planetary wave patterns.” Qinghua Ding (University of Washington); Axel Schweiger (University of Washington); David Battisti (University of Washington); Michelle L’Heureux (NOAA/NCEP);Qin Zhang (NOAA/NCEP) [abstract]
“Oceanographic controls on Arctic sea ice and its future evolution.” Anand Gnanadesikan (Johns Hopkins University); Thomas Haine (Johns Hopkins University) [abstract]
“Improving seasonal predictability and prediction of Arctic sea ice and associated feedbacks on mid- and high-latitude climate in CFSv2.” Jiping Liu (SUNY at Albany); Xingren Wu (NOAA/NCEP); Robert Grumbine (NOAA/NCEP) [abstract]
“Assessing the impact of model formulation and resolution on Arctic sea ice variability and regional predictability.” Rym Msadek (NOAA/GFDL); Gabriel Vecchi (NOAA/GFDL); Michael Winton (NOAA/GFDL) [abstract]
“Extreme moisture transport (atmospheric rivers) into the arctic and its effect on sea-ice concentration.” Gudrun Magnusdottir (University of California, Irvine) [abstract]
“Using Snow Cover to Advance Sea Ice Forecast Models.” Julienne Stroeve (University of Colorado, Boulder); Mark Serreze (University of Colorado, Boulder); Andrew Slater (University of Colorado, Boulder) [abstract]
“Sea Ice Mechanics and Ice Thickness Distribution: Development, Evaluation & Application of an Elastic Decohesive Sea Ice Model.” Deborah Sulsky (University of New Mexico) [abstract]
“The predictability of extreme Arctic sea ice variations in a rapidly changing climate.” Stephen Vavrus (University of Wisconsin, Madison); Marika Holland (NCAR); Muyin Wang (Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington) [abstract]
“An analog system to enhance seasonal predictions of sea ice.” John Walsh (University of Alaska, Fairbanks) [abstract]
“Improving Initialization of Arctic Sea Ice in NCEP’s Climate Forecast System for Advancing Long-Range Predictions.” Wanqiu Wang (NOAA/NCEP); Jinlun Zhang (University of Washington) [abstract]

CVP is a program in the Climate Program Office, within NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, that supports research to advance understanding of the climate system through observation, modeling, analysis, and field studies. To learn more about CVP’s funding opportunities and supported projects, visit:
For a full list of CPO’s grants and awards for 2015, visit: 
NOAA’s Climate Program Office helps improve understanding of climate variability and change in order to enhance society’s ability to plan and respond. NOAA provides science, data, and information that Americans want and need to understand how climate conditions are changing. Without NOAA’s long-term climate observing, monitoring, research, and modeling capabilities we couldn’t quantify where and how climate conditions have changed, nor could we predict where and how they’re likely to change.

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