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Antarctic clouds

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Abstract

Sensitivity studies with global climate models show that, by their influence on the radiation balance, Antarctic clouds play a major role in the climate system, both directly at high southern latitudes and indirectly globally, as the local circulation changes lead to global teleconnections. Unfortunately, observations of cloud distribution in the Antarctic are limited and often of low quality because of the practical difficulty in observing clouds in the harsh Antarctic environment. The best surface observations suggest that the fractional cloud cover at the South Pole is around 50–60% in all seasons, whereas the cloud cover rises to around 80–90% close to the coast of the continent. Microphysical observations of cloud parameters are also very sparse in the Antarctic. However, the few measurements that do exist show predominantly ice-crystal clouds across the interior, with mixed-phase clouds close to the coasts. Crystal sizes vary from 5 to 30 µm (effective radius) in the interior to somewhat larger ice crystals and water drops near the coast. A wide range of crystal shapes is observed at all sites. This review considers the available cloud observations and highlights the importance of Antarctic clouds and the need for better observations in the future.

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