West Antarctic Ice Sheet Cloud Cover and Surface Radiation Budget from NASA A-Train Satellites

Scott, RC, Lubin D, Vogelmann AM, Kato S.  2017.  West Antarctic Ice Sheet Cloud Cover and Surface Radiation Budget from NASA A-Train Satellites. Journal of Climate. 30:6151-6170.

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Clouds are an essential parameter of the surface energy budget influencing the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) response to atmospheric warming and net contribution to global sea level rise. A 4-yr record of NASA A-Train cloud observations is combined with surface radiation measurements to quantify the WAIS radiation budget and constrain the three-dimensional occurrence frequency, thermodynamic phase partitioning, and surface radiative effect of clouds over West Antarctica (WA). The skill of satellite-modeled radiative fluxes is confirmed through evaluation against measurements at four Antarctic sites (WAIS Divide ice camp and Neumayer, Syowa, and Concordia stations). Owing to perennial high-albedo snow and ice cover, cloud infrared emission dominates over cloud solar reflection and absorption leading to a positive net all-wave cloud radiative effect (CRE) at the surface, with all monthly means and 99.15% of instantaneous CRE values exceeding zero. The annual-mean CRE at the WAIS surface is 34 W m−2, representing a significant cloud-induced warming of the ice sheet. Low-level liquid-containing clouds, including thin liquid water clouds implicated in radiative contributions to surface melting, are widespread and most frequent in WA during the austral summer. In summer, clouds warm the WAIS by 26 W m−2, on average, despite maximum offsetting shortwave CRE. Glaciated cloud systems are strongly linked to orographic forcing, with maximum incidence on the WAIS continuing downstream along the Transantarctic Mountains.