Arctic sea ice loss could dry out California

December 5, 2017
Extent of Arctic sea ice in September 2016 versus the 1981-2010 average minimum extent (gold line). Through satellite images, researchers have observed a steep decline in the average extent of Arctic sea ice for every month of the year. Credit: NASA

Arctic sea ice loss of the magnitude expected in the next few decades could impact California's rainfall and exacerbate future droughts, according to new research led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists.

The dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice cover observed over the satellite era is expected to continue throughout the 21st century. Over the next few decades, the Arctic Ocean is projected to become ice-free during the summer. A new study by Ivana Cvijanovic and colleagues from LLNL and University of California, Berkeley shows that substantial loss of Arctic sea ice could have significant far-field effects, and is likely to impact the amount of precipitation California receives. The research appears in the Dec. 5 edition of Nature Communications.

The study identifies a new link between Arctic sea ice loss and the development of an atmospheric ridging system in the North Pacific. This atmospheric feature also played a central role in the 2012-2016 California drought and is known for steering precipitation-rich storms northward, into Alaska and Canada, and away from California. The team found that sea ice changes can lead to convection changes over the tropical Pacific. These convection changes can in turn drive the formation of an atmospheric ridge in the North Pacific, resulting in significant drying over California.

"On average, when considering the 20-year mean, we find a 10-15 percent decrease in California's rainfall. However, some individual years could become much drier, and others wetter," Cvijanovic said.

Schematics of the teleconnection through which Arctic sea-ice changes drive precipitation decrease over California. Arctic sea-ice loss induced high-latitude changes first propagate into tropics, triggering tropical circulation and convection responses. Decreased convection and decreased upper level divergence in the tropical Pacific then drive a northward propagating Rossby wavetrain, with anticyclonic flow forming in the North Pacific. This ridge is responsible for steering the wet tropical air masses away from California. Credit: Kathy Seibert/LLNL

The study does not attribute the 2012-2016 drought to Arctic sea ice loss. However, the simulations indicate that the sea-ice driven precipitation changes resemble the global rainfall patterns observed during that drought, leaving the possibility that Arctic sea-ice loss could have played a role in the recent drought.

"The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what the sea-ice driven precipitation decline could look like," she explained.

California's winter precipitation has decreased over the last two decades, with the 2012-2016 being one of the most severe on record. The impacts of reduced rainfall have been intensified by high temperatures that have enhanced evaporation. Several studies suggest that recent Californian droughts have a manmade component arising from increased temperatures, with the likelihood of such warming-enhanced droughts expected to increase in the future.

"Our study identifies one more pathway by which human activities could affect the occurrence of future droughts over California—through human-induced Arctic sea ice decline," Cvijanovic said. "While more research should be done, we should be aware that an increasing number of studies, including this one, suggest that the of Arctic sea ice cover is not only a problem for remote Arctic communities, but could affect millions of people worldwide. Arctic could affect us, right here in California."

Explore further: Influence of sea-ice loss on Arctic warming is shaped by temperatures in the Pacific Ocean

More information: Ivana Cvijanovic et al. Future loss of Arctic sea-ice cover could drive a substantial decrease in California's rainfall, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01907-4

Related Stories

What it takes to recover from drought

August 9, 2017

Drought-stricken areas anxiously await the arrival of rain. Full recovery of the ecosystem, however, can extend long past the first rain drops on thirsty ground.

Recommended for you

Climate change made Harvey rainfall 15 percent more intense

December 14, 2017

A team of scientists from World Weather Attribution, including researchers from Rice University and other institutions in the United States and Europe, have found that human-caused climate change made the record rainfall ...

East Antarctic Ice Sheet has history of instability

December 13, 2017

The East Antarctic Ice Sheet locks away enough water to raise sea level an estimated 53 meters (174 feet), more than any other ice sheet on the planet. It's also thought to be among the most stable, not gaining or losing ...

Hydraulic fracturing negatively impacts infant health

December 13, 2017

From North Dakota to Ohio to Pennsylvania, hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has transformed small towns into energy powerhouses. While some see the new energy boom as benefiting the local economy and decreasing ...

12 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Chris_Reeve
1 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2017
To be clear, our weather over here in California changed dramatically and overnight with El Nino.
691Boat
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2017
To be clear, our weather over here in California changed dramatically and overnight with El Nino.


That's a very valid point, considering this article had absolutely nothing to do with El Nino. /sarc
By that same point, my trees wiggle when the wind picks up. Crazy how fast that can happen too!
Chris_Reeve
1.2 / 5 (6) Dec 05, 2017
It very much has everything to do with the alarmism that is today happening in the climate sciences: Despite all of the warnings about man affecting the climate, it was the NATURAL variation which pulled us out of our recent drought.
691Boat
4 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2017
It very much has everything to do with the alarmism that is today happening in the climate sciences: Despite all of the warnings about man affecting the climate, it was the NATURAL variation which pulled us out of our recent drought.

So the best plan is to do nothing and allow nature's randomness and variation to fix any climate issue that may or may not be caused/amplified/affected by humans? got it. Good science right there.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 05, 2017
Well with the new tax bill CA is losing its local and state deductions. Residents will be leaving in droves.

Which is good because wildfires driven by drought will extend the sonoran desert up the coast. Earthquakes will finish the job and the US will be glad to acknowledge the Reconquista.

Salvage will be the principle industry for this new estado.
So the best plan is to do nothing and allow nature's randomness and variation to fix any climate issue
Yes, the same way it turned the vast savannahs of north central africa into the sahara.
greenonions1
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2017
Reeve
Despite all of the warnings about man affecting the climate
Are you disputing that man is affecting the climate? If yes - you have to present an alternative explanation for the recent warming trend - which so far no NATURAL cause has been found. If no - then I am not sure what your point is. We know there are natural variations - milankovich cycles, feedback loops, El Nino, El Nina, amo/pdo cycles etc. etc. Should we stop studying the subject at this point - or let science take it's course?
Chris_Reeve
1 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2017
Re: "So the best plan is to do nothing ..."

Yes, the best plan is to stop pretending like we can predict the future. Just as you cannot predict how you yourself will die, neither should we tie up all of our economic resources in an attempt to save the planet from one possible scenario for how the planet might "end". The upside of that is that we will be better prepared to meet unexpected future challenges.

I would go even a step further by suggesting that the IPCC has done more harm to scientific curiosity -- and by extension, scientific innovation -- than probably any other organization. Their steady stream of marketing is obviously designed to convince the world that scientists already know all of the answers even as their models consistently over-predict the warming.

Real science is when your conclusions are not known before you begin your research. That open-ended form of research is how we make new discoveries. This is not what is happening in climate science.
Chris_Reeve
1 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2017
Re: "Are you disputing that man is affecting the climate?"

During the last California drought, our newspapers were flooded with dire warnings that California would never recover.

Then, one day, the El Nino switched gears, and in the same week, we were absolutely flooded with rains.

Within just a few short months, all of the dams were again full.

The weather has completely returned back to normal. The dire predictions were bogus.

That SHOULD mean something.

To give an example, we had awful fires up in Sonoma a couple of months ago, and some -- like Hillary Clinton -- were very quick to blame climate change. But, for those of us who live here, we all learned in the papers that PG&E had a huge backlog of repair jobs in that particular area.

What is clear is that climate change is now the boogyman for many people. These are usually people who refuse to see any politics in science -- an increasingly dangerous approach.
691Boat
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2017
Re: "So the best plan is to do nothing ..."

Yes, the best plan is to stop pretending like we can predict the future. Just as you cannot predict how you yourself will die...


If i have cancer, I should not have any medical procedures done, since nature will inevitably fix it for me, right?
greenonions1
5 / 5 (1) Dec 06, 2017
The dire predictions were bogus
As you point out - the dire predictions you speak of were in the "newspapers." I don't get my science news from the newspapers. You and Donald Trump do that. Climate change is not a boogeyman for me. I do understand the dire possible ramifications of our increasing populations, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change. It is just stupid for us to put our heads in the sand - and not understand the possible consequences. There is good scientific reason to be concerned about what is happening on our planet. Here is one example - with lots of science - http://www.resili...ollapse/ Please show us one example of a scientific paper that tells us there is nothing to worry about - from an evidence based - scientific perspective.
greenonions1
not rated yet Dec 06, 2017
Follow up Reeve. I asked if you are disputing that man is affecting the climate. Crickets chirping. The point being - that if you are making that assertion - then you need to give us the alternative explanation for the current warming trend. If you are not making that assertion - then you seem to have no point.
greenonions1
not rated yet Dec 07, 2017
I guess you haven't been watching the news these past few days Reeve. California just had one of the hottest summers on record. Now we are in the rainy season - and they have received about 5% of the normal rainfall. Are you willing to reimburse people for their destroyed lives? Sounds reasonable to me that deniers should be held accountable for obstructing the process of learning about our world.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.