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New Paper: Decreased Arctic Sea Ice Causes Increased Cloudiness

A paper published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds that decrease in sea ice leads to an increase in cloudiness in the Arctic. Clouds increase the reflection of sunlight (albedo) thereby cooling the Earth and acting as a strong negative feedback to global warming. Although diminshed sea ice decreases albedo, the resulting increase in cloudiness may act as a natural homeostatic mechanism to stabilize Arctic temperatures.

GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 39, L05705, 5 PP., 2012

doi:10.1029/2012GL051251
Key Points

  • EFA method is valuable in providing quatitative assessment of feedback
  • Decrease in sea ice leads to increase in cloud
  • Further decline in sea ice will likely result in cloudier Arctic
Yinghui Liu
Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Jeffrey R. Key
Center for Satellite Applications and Research, NESDIS, NOAA, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Zhengyu Liu
Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Center for Climate Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Xuanji Wang
Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Stephen J. Vavrus
Center for Climate Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Arctic sea ice cover has decreased dramatically over the last three decades. Global climate models under-predicted this decline, most likely a result of the misrepresentation of one or more processes that influence sea ice. The cloud feedback is the primary source of uncertainty in model simulations, especially in the polar regions. A better understanding of the interaction between sea ice and clouds, and specifically the impact of decreased sea ice on cloud cover, will provide valuable insight into the Arctic climate system and may ultimately help in improving climate model parameterizations. In this study, an equilibrium feedback assessment is employed to quantify the relationship between changes in sea ice and clouds, using satellite-derived sea ice concentration and cloud cover over the period 2000–2010. Results show that a 1% decrease in sea ice concentration leads to a 0.36–0.47% increase in cloud cover, suggesting that a further decline in sea ice cover will result in an even cloudier Arctic.