A recent tipping point in the Arctic sea-ice cover: abrupt and persistent increase in the seasonal cycle since 2007 1National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 0LW, UK
12 Feb 2013
2School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
3College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Hatherly Laboratories, Exeter EX4 4PS, UK
Received: 26 June 2012 – Published in The Cryosphere Discuss.: 18 July 2012 Abstract. There is ongoing debate over whether Arctic sea ice has already passed a "tipping point",
or whether it will do so in the future.
Several recent studies argue that the loss of summer sea ice does not involve an irreversible
bifurcation, because it is highly reversible in models.
However, a broader definition of a "tipping point" also includes other abrupt, non-linear changes
that are neither bifurcations nor necessarily irreversible.
Examination of satellite data for Arctic sea-ice area reveals an abrupt increase in the
amplitude of seasonal variability in 2007 that has persisted since then.
We identified this abrupt transition using recently developed methods
that can detect multi-modality in time-series data and sometimes forewarn of bifurcations.
When removing the mean seasonal cycle (up to 2008) from the satellite data,
the residual sea-ice fluctuations switch from uni-modal to multi-modal behaviour around 2007.
We originally interpreted this as a bifurcation in which a new lower ice cover attractor appears
in deseasonalised fluctuations and is sampled in every summer–autumn from 2007 onwards.
However, this interpretation is clearly sensitive to how the seasonal cycle is removed from the raw data,
and to the presence of continental land masses restricting winter–spring ice fluctuations.
Furthermore, there was no robust early warning signal of critical slowing down
prior to the hypothesized bifurcation.
Early warning indicators do however show destabilization of the summer–autumn
sea-ice cover since 2007.
Thus, the bifurcation hypothesis lacks consistent support,
but there was an abrupt and persistent increase
in the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of Arctic sea-ice cover in 2007,
which we describe as a (non-bifurcation) "tipping point".
Our statistical methods detect this "tipping point" and its time of onset.
We discuss potential geophysical mechanisms behind it,
which should be the subject of further work with process-based models.
Revised: 07 January 2013 – Accepted: 18 January 2013 – Published: 12 February 2013
Citation: Livina, V. N. and Lenton, T. M.: A recent tipping point in the Arctic sea-ice cover: abrupt and persistent increase in the seasonal cycle since 2007, The Cryosphere, 7, 275-286, doi:10.5194/tc-7-275-2013, 2013.