Climate Dynamics Group
at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Robust polar amplification in ice-free climates relies on ocean heat transport and cloud radiative effects

research paper
  • Mark England
  • Nicole Feldl
updates ↓

01/19/24 England, M. R., and N. Feldl (2024), Journal of Climate, 37, 2179–2197, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-23-0151.1.

A fundamental divide exists between previous studies which conclude that polar amplification does not occur without sea ice and studies which find that polar amplification is an inherent feature of the atmosphere independent of sea ice. We hypothesise that a representation of climatological ocean heat transport is key for simulating polar amplification in ice-free climates. To investigate this we run a suite of targeted experiments in the slab ocean aquaplanet configuration of CESM2-CAM6 with different profiles of prescribed ocean heat transport, which are invariant under CO2 quadrupling. In simulations without climatological ocean heat transport, polar amplification does not occur. In contrast, in simulations with climatological ocean heat transport, robust polar amplification occurs in all seasons. What is causing this dependence of polar amplification on ocean heat transport? Energy-balance model theory is incapable of explaining our results and in fact would predict that introducing ocean heat transport leads to less polar amplification. We instead demonstrate that shortwave cloud radiative feedbacks can explain the divergent polar climate responses simulated by CESM2-CAM6. Targeted cloud locking experiments in the zero ocean heat transport simulations are able to reproduce the polar amplification of the climatological ocean heat transport simulations, solely by prescribing high latitude cloud radiative feedbacks. We conclude that polar amplification in ice-free climates is underpinned by ocean-atmosphere coupling, through a less negative high latitude shortwave cloud radiative feedback that facilitates enhanced polar warming. In addition to reconciling previous disparities, these results have important implications for interpreting past equable climates and climate projections under high emissions scenarios.