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Towards seasonal Arctic shipping route predictions

Melia, N., Haines, K., Hawkins, E. and Day, J. J. (2017) Towards seasonal Arctic shipping route predictions. Environmental Research Letters, 12 (8). ISSN 1748-9326

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa7a60


The continuing decline in Arctic sea-ice will likely lead to increased human activity and opportunities for shipping in the region, suggesting that seasonal predictions of route openings will become ever more important. Here we present results from a set of 'perfect model' experiments to assess the predictability characteristics of the opening of Arctic sea routes. We find skilful predictions of the upcoming summer shipping season can be made from as early as January, although typically forecasts show lower skill before a May 'predictability barrier'. We demonstrate that in forecasts started from January, predictions of route opening date are twice as uncertain as predicting the closing date and that the Arctic shipping season is becoming longer due to climate change, with later closing dates mostly responsible. We find that predictive skill is state dependent with predictions for high or low ice years exhibiting greater skill than medium ice years. Forecasting the fastest open water route through the Arctic is accurate to within 200 km when predicted from July, a six-fold increase in accuracy compared to forecasts initialised from the previous November, which are typically no better than climatology. Finally we find that initialisation of accurate summer sea-ice thickness information is crucial to obtain skilful forecasts, further motivating investment into sea-ice thickness observations, climate models, and assimilation systems.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > NCAS
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:71728
Publisher:Institute of Physics
Publisher Statement:Open Access


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