Low-Level Cloud Budgets Across Sea Ice Edges

Publication Year


Journal Article

Interpreting behaviors of low-level clouds (LLCs) in a climate model is often not straightforward. This is particularly so over polar oceans where frozen and unfrozen surfaces coexist, with horizontal winds streaming across them, shaping LLCs. To add clarity to this interpretation issue, we conduct budget analyses of LLCs using a global atmosphere model with a fully prognostic cloud scheme. After substantiating the model’s skill in reproducing observed LLCs, we use the modeled budgets of cloud fraction and water content to elucidate physics governing changes of LLCs across sea ice edges. Contrasting LLC regimes between open water and sea ice are found. LLCs over sea ice are primarily maintained by large-scale condensation: intermittent intrusions of maritime humid air and surface radiative cooling jointly sustain high relative humidity near the surface, forming extensive but tenuous stratus. This contrasts with the LLCs over open water where the convection and boundary layer condensation sustain the LLCs on top of deeper boundary layers. Such contrasting LLC regimes are influenced by the direction of horizontal advection. During on-ice flow, large-scale condensation dominates the regions, both open water and sea ice regions, forming clouds throughout the lowest several kilometers of the troposphere. During off-ice flow, as cold air masses travel over the open water, the cloud layer lifts and becomes denser, driven by increased surface fluxes that generate LLCs through boundary-layer condensation and convective detrainment. These results hold in all seasons except summer when the atmosphere-surface decoupling substantially reduces the footprints of surface type changes.

Journal of Climate
Date Published