Predictability of Arctic sea ice drift in coupled climate models

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<jats:p>Abstract. Skillful sea ice drift forecasts are crucial for scientific mission planning and marine safety. Wind is the dominant driver of ice motion variability, but more slowly varying components of the climate system, in particular ice thickness and ocean currents, bear the potential to render ice drift more predictable than the wind. In this study, we provide the first assessment of Arctic sea ice drift predictability in four coupled general circulation models (GCMs), using a suite of “perfect-model” ensemble simulations. We find the position vector from Lagrangian trajectories of virtual buoys to remain predictable for at least a 90 (45) d lead time for initializations in January (July), reaching about 80 % of the position uncertainty of a climatological reference forecast. In contrast, the uncertainty in Eulerian drift vector predictions reaches the level of the climatological uncertainty within 4 weeks. Spatial patterns of uncertainty, varying with season and across models, develop in all investigated GCMs. For two models providing near-surface wind data (AWI-CM1 and HadGEM1.2), we find spatial patterns and large fractions of the variance to be explained by wind vector uncertainty. The latter implies that sea ice drift is only marginally more predictable than wind. Nevertheless, particularly one of the four models (GFDL-CM3) shows a significant correlation of up to −0.85 between initial ice thickness and target position uncertainty in large parts of the Arctic. Our results provide a first assessment of the inherent predictability of ice motion in coupled climate models; they can be used to put current real-world forecast skill into perspective and highlight the model diversity of sea ice drift predictability. </jats:p>

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Published online
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DOI 10.5194/tc-16-2927-2022

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Reifenberg, S. F. and Goessling, H. F. (2022): Predictability of Arctic sea ice drift in coupled climate models , The Cryosphere, 16 (7), pp. 2927-2946 . doi: 10.5194/tc-16-2927-2022

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