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Transmission of solar radiation through clouds on melting glaciers: a comparison of parameterizations and their impact on melt modelling

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We explore the robustness and transferability of parameterizations of cloud radiative forcing used in glacier melt models at two sites in the Swiss Alps. We also look at the rationale behind some of the most commonly used approaches, and explore the relationship between cloud transmittance and several standard meteorological variables. The 2m air-temperature diurnal range is the best predictor of variations in cloud transmittance. However, linear and exponential parameterizations can only explain 30–50% of the observed variance in computed cloud transmittance factors. We examine the impact of modelled cloud transmittance factors on both solar radiation and ablation rates computed with an enhanced temperature-index model. The melt model performance decreases when modelled radiation is used, the reduction being due to an underestimation of incoming solar radiation on clear-sky days. The model works well under overcast conditions. We also seek alternatives to the use of in situ ground data. However, outputs from an atmospheric model (2.2 km horizontal resolution) do not seem to provide an alternative to the parameterizations of cloud radiative forcing based on observations of air temperature at glacier automatic weather stations. Conversely, the correct definition of overcast conditions is important.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-04-01

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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