Clouds in Antarctica are very different from others

(ORDO NEWS) — Clouds forming in freezing air over Antarctica differ in the way water and ice interact within them, a new study has found, and this in turn changes the amount of sunlight they reflect back into space, which is important for climate change models.

Through a combination of simulations, satellite imagery and cloud-fly data, the researchers identified a process of “secondary” ice formation. This means that ice particles collide with supercooled water droplets, freeze them and then break them, creating many ice shards.

The technical term for this sequence of events is the splitting of the Hallett-Mossop rome. It darkens the clouds, reducing the amount of sunlight reflected back into space and letting more of it into the ocean.

Clouds in Antarctica are very different from others 2

“The Southern Ocean is a massive global heat sink, but its ability to remove heat from the atmosphere depends on the temperature structure of the upper ocean, which is associated with cloud cover,” says atmospheric scientist Rachel Atlas of the University of Washington.

The researchers calculated that in clouds between -3°C and -8°C (26.6°F and 17.6°F), about 10 watts per square meter of additional energy from the Sun could reach the ocean, which is enough for a significant temperature changes.

The formation of ice within these clouds is very efficient and the resulting ice can fall into the ocean very quickly. This quickly reduces the amount of water in the clouds and changes some of their key characteristics in terms of reflection.

What happens inside clouds also affects their shape, creating further implications for how well they protect the water below them.

All these factors need to be weighed to create the most accurate climate models.

“The ice crystals completely deplete most of the thinner cloud, so the horizontal coverage is reduced,” says Atlas.

“Ice crystals also drain some of the fluid in the thick cloud cores. So the ice particles both reduce the cloud cover and darken the remaining cloud.”

February is the peak of summer in Antarctica, and about 90 percent of the sky is covered with clouds during this time of the year. A quarter of these clouds are of the cloud type considered in this study, mixed-phase clouds, so the potential effect should not be underestimated.

Currently, only a few global climate models account for the splitting of the Hallett-Mossop rome, and the researchers behind the new study would like to see this changed so that we can get a more detailed understanding of how the Earth’s climate is changing in different ecosystems.

This is a question that has been raised many times before: climate models do not sufficiently take into account all the different types of clouds that orbit the globe, all the different processes that take place in them, and how this can affect temperature.

“The low clouds of the Southern Ocean should not be considered liquid clouds,” says Atlas.

“Ice formation in low clouds of the Southern Ocean has a significant impact on cloud properties and should be taken into account in global models.”


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