Mechanisms of Regional Arctic Sea Ice Predictability in Two Dynamical Seasonal Forecast Systems
Research over the past decade has demonstrated that dynamical forecast systems can skillfully predict Pan-Arctic sea ice extent (SIE) on the seasonal timescale; however, there have been fewer assessments of prediction skill on user-relevant spatial scales. In this work, we evaluate regional Arctic SIE predictions made with the FLOR and SPEAR_MED dynamical seasonal forecast systems developed at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Compared to FLOR, we find that the recently-developed SPEAR_MED system displays improved skill in predicting regional detrended SIE anomalies, partially owing to improvements in sea ice concentration (SIC) and thickness (SIT) initial conditions. In both systems, winter SIE is skillfully predicted up to 11 months in advance, whereas summer minimum SIE predictions are limited by the Arctic spring predictability barrier, with typical skill horizons of roughly four months. We construct a parsimonious set of simple statistical prediction models to investigate the mechanisms of sea ice predictability in these systems. Three distinct predictability regimes are identified: a summer regime dominated by SIE and SIT anomaly persistence; a winter regime dominated by SIE and upper ocean heat content (uOHC) anomaly persistence; and a combined regime in the Chukchi Sea, characterized by a trade-off between uOHC-based and SIT-based predictability that occurs as the sea ice edge position evolves seasonally. The combination of regional SIE, SIT, and uOHC predictors is able to reproduce the SIE skill of the dynamical models in nearly all regions, suggesting that these statistical predictors provide a stringent skill benchmark for assessing seasonal sea ice prediction systems.