Elucidating the role of anthropogenic aerosols in Arctic sea ice variations

Yuan Wang, Jonathan H. Jiang, Hui Su, Yong Sang Choi, Lei Huang, Jianping Guo, Yuk L. Yung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Observations show that the Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking at an unprecedented rate since the 1970s. Even though the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been closely linked with the loss of Arctic sea ice, the role of atmospheric aerosols in past and future Arctic climate change remains elusive. Using a state-of-the-art fully coupled climate model, the authors assess the equilibrium responses of the Arctic sea ice to the different aerosol emission scenarios and investigate the pathways by which aerosols impose their influence in the Arctic. These sensitivity experiments show that the impacts of aerosol perturbations on the pace of sea ice melt effectively modulate the ocean circulation and atmospheric feedbacks. Because of the contrasting evolutions of particulate pollution in the developed and developing countries since the 1970s, the opposite aerosol forcings from different midlatitude regions are nearly canceled out in the Arctic during the boreal summer, resulting in a muted aerosol effect on the recent sea ice changes. Consequently, the greenhouse forcing alone can largely explain the observed Arctic sea ice loss up to the present. In the next few decades, the projected alleviation of particulate pollution in the Northern Hemisphere can contribute up to 20% of the total Arctic sea ice loss and 0.7°C surface warming over the Arctic. The authors' model simulations further show that aerosol microphysical effects on the Arctic clouds are the major component in the total aerosol radiative forcing over the Arctic. Compared to the aerosol-induced energy imbalance in lower latitudes outside the Arctic, the local radiative forcing by aerosol variations within the Arctic, due to either local emissions or long-range transports, is more efficient in determining the sea ice changes and Arctic climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-114
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Meteorological Society.


  • Aerosol indirect effect
  • Aerosol radiative effect
  • Climate variability
  • General circulation models
  • Sea ice


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