Impact of Clouds on Surface Radiative Fluxes and Snowmelt in the Arctic and Subarctic

T. Zhang, K. Stamnes and S. A. Bowling, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775

A comprehensive atmospheric radiative transfer model combined with the surface energy balance equation is applied to investigate the impact of clouds on surface radiative fluxes and snowmelt in the Arctic and Subarctic. Results show that at the surface, the shortwave cloud radiative forcing is negative, while the longwave forcing is positive and generally much larger than the shortwave forcing. Thus, the all-wave surface cloud-radiative forcing is positive, with clouds warming the lower atmosphere and enhancing snowmelt during the melting period in the Arctic and Subarctic. These results agree with and explain ovservations and measurements over the past three decades showing that the onset of snowmelt starts earlier under cloudy sky conditions than under clear sky conditions in the Arctic. Clouds could change the date of onset of snowmelt by as much as a month, which is of the order of the observed interannual variations in the timing of snowmelt in the Arctic and Subarctic. The all-wave cloud-radiative forcing during the period of snowmelt reaches a maximum at equivalent cloud droplet radius (re) of about 9 micrometerrs, and cloud liquid water path of about 29 g per meter squared. For thin clouds, the impact of changes in liquid water path on all-wave cloud radiative forcing is greater than changes in equivalent cloud droplet size, while for thick clouds, the equivalent cloud droplet size becomes more important. Cloud base temperature and to a minor extent cloud base height also influence the surface radiative fluxes and snowmelt. This study indicates that the coupling between clouds and snowmelt could amplify the climate perturbation in the Arctic.

Journal of Climate. 9, 2110-2123, September, 1996.