Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Evidence for extreme export of Arctic sea ice leading the abrupt onset of the Little Ice Age

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  16 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 38, eaba4320
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba4320


Arctic sea ice affects climate on seasonal to decadal time scales, and models suggest that sea ice is essential for longer anomalies such as the Little Ice Age. However, empirical evidence is fragmentary. Here, we reconstruct sea ice exported from the Arctic Ocean over the past 1400 years, using a spatial network of proxy records. We find robust evidence for extreme export of sea ice commencing abruptly around 1300 CE and terminating in the late 1300s. The exceptional magnitude and duration of this “Great Sea-Ice Anomaly” was previously unknown. The pulse of ice along East Greenland resulted in downstream increases in polar waters and ocean stratification, culminating ~1400 CE and sustained during subsequent centuries. While consistent with external forcing theories, the onset and development are notably similar to modeled spontaneous abrupt cooling enhanced by sea-ice feedbacks. These results provide evidence that marked climate changes may not require an external trigger.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances