Cloud influence on and response to seasonal Arctic sea ice loss

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Abstract

[1] Recent declines in Arctic sea ice extent provide new opportunities to assess cloud influence on and response to seasonal sea ice loss. This study combines unique satellite observations with complementary data sets to document Arctic cloud and atmospheric structure during summer and early fall. The analysis focuses on 2006–2008, a period over which ice extent plummeted to record levels, substantial variability in atmospheric circulation patterns occurred, and spaceborne radar and lidar observations of vertical cloud structure became available. The observations show that large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns, near-surface static stability, and surface conditions control Arctic cloud cover during the melt season. While no summer cloud response to sea ice loss was found, low clouds did form over newly open water during early fall. This seasonal variation in the cloud response to sea ice loss can be explained by near-surface static stability and air-sea temperature gradients. During summer, temperature inversions and weak air-sea temperature gradients limit atmosphere-ocean coupling. In contrast, relatively low static stability and strong air-sea gradients during early fall permit upward turbulent fluxes of moisture and heat and increased low cloud formation over newly open water. Because of their seasonal timing, cloud changes resulting from sea ice loss play a minor role in regulating ice-albedo feedbacks during summer, but may contribute to a cloud-ice feedback during early fall.

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