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NASA satellites show how clouds respond to Arctic sea ice change

NASA satellites show how clouds respond to Arctic sea ice change
A piece of the North Water Polynya and adjoining sea ice seen throughout an Operation IceBridge flight on April 19, 2016. Moisture evaporated from the ocean is seen condensing into small clouds. Credit score: NASA/Jeremy Harbeck

Clouds are one of many greatest wildcards in predictions of how a lot and how briskly the Arctic will proceed to heat sooner or later. Relying on the time of the yr and the altering atmosphere by which they kind and exist, clouds can each act to heat and funky the floor under them.

For many years, scientists have assumed that losses in Arctic sea ice cowl enable for the formation of extra clouds close to the ocean’s floor. Now, new NASA analysis reveals that by releasing warmth and moisture by means of a big gap in sea ice referred to as a polynya, the uncovered ocean fuels the formation of extra clouds that lure warmth within the ambiance and hinder the refreezing of recent sea ice.

The findings come from a research over a piece of northern Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada referred to as the North Water Polynya. The analysis is among the many first to probe the interactions between the polynya and clouds with energetic sensors on satellites, which allowed scientists to investigate clouds vertically at decrease and better ranges within the ambiance.

The method allowed scientists to extra precisely spot how cloud formation modified close to the ocean’s floor over the polynya and the encircling sea ice, defined Emily Monroe, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Langley Analysis Heart in Hampton, Virginia, who led the research.

“As a substitute of counting on mannequin output and meteorological reanalysis to check our speculation, we’re capable of pull near-instantaneous satellite tv for pc scan information from the realm close to the polynya,” Monroe mentioned. “Since every scan is collected over a time scale on the order of about 10 seconds, it’s extra probably the polynya and close by ice are experiencing the identical large-scale climate circumstances, so we are able to extra precisely tease aside what impact the change from ice floor to water floor is having on the overlying clouds.”







A simplified visualization exhibiting cloud responses earlier than, throughout, and after the opening of a giant gap surrounded by sea ice referred to as a polynya. The insulating impact of sea ice is seen, because the opening of the polynya facilitates warmth (purple) and moisture (yellow) exchanges. Warmth emitted by clouds (purple) over the ice gap helps preserve the polynya open, and stays after new sea ice closes the ice gap. Credit score: NASA’s Goddard House Flight Heart Conceptual Picture Lab / Jenny McElligott

Sea ice acts like a lid on a pot of boiling water, defined Linette Boisvert, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard House Flight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was a part of the research. When the lid is eliminated, warmth and steam escape into the air.

“We’re getting extra warmth and moisture from the ocean going into the ambiance as a result of the ocean ice acts like a cap or a barrier between the comparatively heat ocean floor and the chilly and dry ambiance above,” Boisvert mentioned. “This warming and moistening of the ambiance slows down the vertical progress of the ocean ice, which means that it’ll not be as thick, so it is extra susceptible to soften in the summertime months.”

Like different polynyas within the Arctic and Antarctic, the North Water Polynya kinds when particular wind patterns blow in a persistent route and tear holes within the ice. These wind patterns solely exist within the winter months, and the holes open and shut repeatedly, alternately exposing and insulating the ocean.

The brand new insights come throughout a time when Arctic sea ice seems to have hit its annual minimal extent after waning through the hotter months in 2021. They underscore how sea ice influences a area that performs an integral function in regulating the tempo of worldwide warming, sea stage rise, and different results of human-caused local weather change.

Sea ice doesn’t increase world sea ranges immediately. Like ice cubes in a drink, melting sea ice doesn’t immediately enhance the quantity of water within the ocean. Nonetheless, a shrinking Arctic sea ice extent can expose comparatively heat sea water to the area’s coastal ice sheets and glaciers, inflicting extra melting that contributes freshwater to the ocean and does trigger sea stage rise.

The brand new analysis reveals low clouds over the polynya emitted extra power or warmth than clouds in adjoining areas coated by sea ice. These low clouds contained extra liquid water, too—almost 4 instances larger than clouds over close by sea ice. The elevated cloud cowl and warmth below the clouds continued for a few week after every event the polynya refroze through the time span of the research.

NASA satellites show how clouds respond to Arctic sea ice change
The western fringe of the North Water Polynya seen throughout an Operation IceBridge flight on April 3, 2019. The polynya, a big patch of uncovered ocean inside an space of considerable sea ice cowl, opens 4 to 5 instances through the colder months. The extent of the North Water Polynya varies from yr to yr, however will be massive sufficient to cowl the realm of total U.S. states reminiscent of Virginia. Credit score: NASA / Jeremy Harbeck

“Simply because the ocean ice reforms and the polynya closes up, that does not imply that circumstances return to regular immediately,” Boisvert mentioned. “Despite the fact that the moisture sources are primarily gone, this impact of additional clouds and elevated cloud radiative impact to the floor stays for a time after [the polynya freezes].”

The findings additionally recommend the response of the clouds to the polynya lengthened the time the outlet remained open, mentioned Patrick Taylor, a local weather scientist at NASA Langley, who additionally was a part of the research.

“They’ll create a thicker blanket and enhance the quantity of warmth emitted all the way down to the floor,” Taylor mentioned. “The emitted warmth helps preserve the floor of the North Water Polynya a little bit hotter and helps lengthen the occasion itself.”

Giant-scale meteorological processes typically make research of Arctic warming troublesome. Nevertheless, repeated openings within the sea ice in the identical area create a pure laboratory to review the suggestions between clouds and the alternation between sea ice and polynyas.

“We will examine each sea ice and open water areas, and the clouds over these two floor varieties in shut sufficient proximity, in order that we do not have to fret about massive modifications in atmospheric circumstances which have confounded earlier research,” Taylor mentioned. “If there’s not a cloud response to a polynya occasion the place sea ice goes away over the course of some days, you would not anticipate a response wherever else. The opening of a polynya is a really robust, distinct forcing.”

The crew is planning to take their analysis to the following stage and take a look at whether or not an identical cloud impact will be noticed in different areas the place sea ice and open ocean meet.


Researchers find the dynamics behind the remarkable August 2018 Greenland polynya formation


Extra info:
Emily E. Monroe et al, Arctic Cloud Response to a Perturbation in Sea Ice Focus: The North Water Polynya, Journal of Geophysical Analysis: Atmospheres (2021). DOI: 10.1029/2020JD034409

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