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A Stabilizing Feedback Between Cloud Radiative Effects and Greenland Surface Melt: Verification From Multi-year Automatic Weather Station Measurements

Presentation Date
Friday, December 15, 2017 at 8:00am
New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center - Poster Hall D-F



Clouds have strong impacts on Greenland’s surface melt through the interaction with the dry atmosphere and reflective surfaces. However, their effects are uncertain due to the lack of in situ observations. To better quantify cloud radiative effects (CRE) in Greenland, we analyze and interpret multi-year radiation measurements from 30 automatic weather stations encompassing a broad range of climatological and topographical conditions. During melt season, clouds warm surface over most of Greenland, meaning the longwave greenhouse effect outweighs the shortwave shading effect; on the other hand, the spatial variability of net (longwave and shortwave) CRE is dominated by shortwave CRE and in turn by surface albedo, which controls the potential absorption of solar radiation when clouds are absent. The net warming effect decreases with shortwave CRE from high to low altitudes and from north to south (Fig. 1). The spatial correlation between albedo and net CRE is strong (r=0.93, p<<0.01). In the accumulation zone, the net CRE seasonal trend is controlled by longwave CRE associated with cloud fraction and liquid water content. It becomes stronger from May to July and stays constant in August. In the ablation zone, albedo determines the net CRE seasonal trend, which decreases from May to July and increases afterwards. On an hourly timescale, we find two distinct radiative states in Greenland (Fig. 2). The clear state is characterized by clear-sky conditions or thin clouds, when albedo and solar zenith angle (SZA) weakly correlates with CRE. The cloudy state is characterized by opaque clouds, when the combination of albedo and SZA strongly correlates with CRE (r=0.85, p<0.01). Although cloud properties intrinsically affect CRE, the large melt-season variability of these two non-cloud factors, albedo and solar zenith angle, explains the majority of the CRE variation in spatial distribution, seasonal trend in the ablation zone, and in hourly variability in the cloudy radiative state. Clouds warm the brighter and colder surfaces of Greenland, enhance snow melt, and tend to lower the albedo. Clouds cool the darker and warmer surfaces, inhibiting snow melt, which increases albedo, and thus stabilizes surface melt. This stabilizing mechanism may also occur over sea ice, helping to forestall surface melt as the Arctic becomes dimmer.

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