Help Privacy Policy Disclaimer
  Advanced SearchBrowse




Journal Article

The early twentieth century warming in the Arctic – A possible mechanism


Bengtsson,  Lennart
The Atmosphere in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;
Emeritus Scientific Members, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;


Semenov,  Vladimir A.
The Atmosphere in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

External Resource
No external resources are shared
Fulltext (restricted access)
There are currently no full texts shared for your IP range.
Fulltext (public)
Supplementary Material (public)
There is no public supplementary material available

Bengtsson, L., Semenov, V. A., & Johannessen, O. (2004). The early twentieth century warming in the Arctic – A possible mechanism. Journal of Climate, 17, 4045-4057. doi:10.1175/1520-0442(2004)017<4045:TETWIT>2.0.CO;2.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-01C8-0
The huge warming of the Arctic that started in the early 1920s and lasted for almost two decades is one of the most spectacular climate events of the 20th century. During the peak period 1930-1940 the annually averaged temperature anomaly for the area 60°N-90°N amounted to some 1.7°C. Whether this event is an example of an internal climate mode or externally forced, such as by enhanced solar effects, is presently under debate. Here we suggest that natural variability is the most likely cause with reduced sea ice cover being crucial for the warming. A robust sea ice-air temperature relationship was demonstrated by a set of four simulations with the atmospheric ECHAM model forced with observed SST and sea ice concentrations.
An analysis of the spatial characteristics of the observed early century surface air temperature anomaly revealed that it was associated with similar sea ice variations. We have further investigated the variability of Arctic surface temperature and sea ice cover by analyzing data from a coupled ocean-atmosphere model. By analyzing similar climate anomalies in the model as occurred in the early 20th century, it was found that the simulated temperature increase in the Arctic was caused by enhanced wind driven oceanic inflow into the Barents Sea with an associated sea ice retreat.
The magnitude of the inflow is linked to the strength of westerlies into the Barents Sea. We propose a positive feedback sustaining the enhanced westerly winds by a cyclonic atmospheric circulation in the Barents Sea region created by a strong surface heat flux over the ice-free areas. Observational data suggest a similar series of events during the early 20th century Arctic warming including increasing westerly winds between Spitsbergen and the northernmost Norwegian coast, reduced sea ice and enhanced cyclonic circulation over the Barents Sea. It is interesting to note that the increasing high latitude westerly flow at this time was unrelated to the North Atlantic Oscillation, which at the same time was weakening.