Clouds damp the radiative impacts of polar sea ice loss

Alkama, Ramdane ; Taylor, Patrick C. ; Garcia-San Martin, Lorea ; Douville, Hervé ; Duveiller, Gregory ; Forzieri, Giovanni ; Swingedouw, Didier ; Cescatti, Alessandro

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<p align=justify>Clouds play an important role in the climate system: (1) cooling Earth by reflecting incoming sunlight to space and (2) warming Earth by reducing thermal energy loss to space. Cloud radiative effects are especially important in polar regions and have the potential to significantly alter the impact of sea ice decline on the surface radiation budget. Using CERES (Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System) data and 32 CMIP5 (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project) climate models, we quantify the influence of polar clouds on the radiative impact of polar sea ice variability. Our results show that the cloud short-wave cooling effect strongly influences the impact of sea ice variability on the surface radiation budget and does so in a counter-intuitive manner over the polar seas: years with less sea ice and a larger net surface radiative flux show a more negative cloud radiative effect. Our results indicate that <span class="inline-formula">66±2<i>%</i></span> of this change in the net cloud radiative effect is due to the reduction in surface albedo and that the remaining <span class="inline-formula">34±1</span> % is due to an increase in cloud cover and optical thickness. The overall cloud radiative damping effect is <span class="inline-formula">56±2</span> % over the Antarctic and <span class="inline-formula">47±3</span> % over the Arctic. Thus, present-day cloud properties significantly reduce the net radiative impact of sea ice loss on the Arctic and Antarctic surface radiation budgets. As a result, climate models must accurately represent present-day polar cloud properties in order to capture the surface radiation budget impact of polar sea ice loss and thus the surface albedo feedback.</p>
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