On the reliability of simulated Arctic sea ice in global climate models



[1] While most of the global climate models (GCMs) currently being evaluated for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report simulate present-day Arctic sea ice in reasonably good agreement with observations, the intermodel differences in simulated Arctic cloud cover are large and produce significant differences in downwelling longwave radiation. Using the standard thermodynamic models of sea ice, we find that the GCM-generated spread in longwave radiation produces equilibrium ice thicknesses that range from 1 to more than 10 meters. However, equilibrium ice thickness is an extremely sensitive function of the ice albedo, allowing errors in simulated cloud cover to be compensated by tuning of the ice albedo. This analysis suggests that the results of current GCMs cannot be relied upon at face value for credible predictions of future Arctic sea ice.