Atmospheric and oceanic contributions to irreducible forecast uncertainty of Arctic surface climate
Tietsche, S., Hawkins, E. and Day, J. J. (2016) Atmospheric and oceanic contributions to irreducible forecast uncertainty of Arctic surface climate. Journal of Climate, 29 (1). pp. 331-346. ISSN 0894-8755
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0421.1
Uncertainty of Arctic seasonal to interannual predictions arising from model errors and initial state uncertainty has been widely discussed in the literature, whereas the irreducible forecast uncertainty (IFU) arising from the chaoticity of the climate system has received less attention. However, IFU provides important insights into the mechanisms through which predictability is lost, and hence can inform prioritization of model development and observations deployment. Here, we characterize how internal oceanic and surface atmospheric heat fluxes contribute to IFU of Arctic sea ice and upper ocean heat content in an Earth system model by analyzing a set of idealized ensemble prediction experiments. We find that atmospheric and oceanic heat flux are often equally important for driving unpredictable Arctic-wide changes in sea ice and surface water temperatures, and hence contribute equally to IFU. Atmospheric surface heat flux tends to dominate Arctic-wide changes for lead times of up to a year, whereas oceanic heat flux tends to dominate regionally and on interannual time scales. There is in general a strong negative covariance between surface heat flux and ocean vertical heat flux at depth, and anomalies of lateral ocean heat transport are wind-driven, which suggests that the unpredictable oceanic heat flux variability is mainly forced by the atmosphere. These results are qualitatively robust across different initial states, but substantial variations in the amplitude of IFU exist. We conclude that both atmospheric variability and the initial state of the upper ocean are key ingredients for predictions of Arctic surface climate on seasonal to interannual time scales.