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The impact of cloud cover on the net radiation budget of the Greenland ice sheet

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Energy-balance models driven by radiation and turbulent heat fluxes have been widely applied to predicting the response of the Greenland ice sheet to climate change. However, a lack of knowledge of the temporal and spatial distribution of cloud amount and type has necessitated the use of parameterizations or statistical models of cloud cover. This deficiency results in large uncertainties in both shortwave and longwave radiation fluxes. Stereo-matching of nadir and forward view Along Track Scanning Radiometer-2 (ATSR-2) image pairs has been shown to be a reliable method of retrieving cloud top height, and further cloud properties can be derived from thermal imagery allowing classification into cloud type. A 1year cloud record for a transect across southern Greenland derived from stereo-matching is presented here, and comparisons are made with climate re-analysis data and ground observations. The cloud-cover data were used in a simple radiative transfer model, and the impact of clouds on the net radiation fluxes was found to be considerable. Different cloud scenarios produced up to 40 W m-2 difference in net radiation balance. In the ablation zone, where the albedo is lower and most variable, the sensitivity to cloud-cover fraction was less marked, but the higher spatial resolution of the ATSR-2 cloud record was reflected by a much more varied trend in radiation balance. Whether the net radiation balance increases or decreases with increased cloud cover was found to be a function of the cloud amount and type and also the surface albedo. The sensitivity of the model to a ±5% change in cloud amount was found to be comparable to a 1 K change in temperature. This clearly demonstrates the importance of reliable, quantitative cloud data in mass-balance and other glaciological studies.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2002

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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