Some of the best-known and feared aspects of climate change are its potential effects on weather conditions and how this could accelerate the melting of natural ice. Research has already proven that the area of sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking rapidly due to global warming, and that the temperature and moisture content in the Arctic have changed dramatically. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to understand exactly how these changes affect cloud formation in the region, and cloud composition and phase are important aspects to consider in predictive numerical models.
In a recent study published in Geophysical research letters, a team of scientists led by Dr Jun Inoue of the National Polar Research Institute, Japan, sought to answer a particular question: Can the higher waves in the Arctic Sea promote the development of clouds containing ice ? This question may seem strange at first, because most people would not have imagined that a link could exist between these two natural phenomena. However, as the results of this study indicate, it is likely that there is.
The field data used in the study was collected in November 2018 during a Chukchi sea expedition to the arctic region on board RV Mirai, a Japanese research vessel. Previous studies in the region had found that the decline of sea ice in the Arctic resulted in more frequent active weather systems, stronger winds and higher waves. The research team suspects that these factors could affect cloud formation and composition, as breaking waves and strong winds can cause organic particles to disperse from the sea surface into the atmosphere in the form of spray. Once these suspended organic particles reach a high enough altitude, they act as “seeds” which facilitate the formation of ice crystals, earning them the name “ice nucleation particles” (INP). These ice crystals continue to grow by freezing the surrounding water droplets, forming what are called ice clouds.
To prove this hypothesis, Dr Inoue and his team on the RV Mirai periodically deployed various measuring instruments at key locations in the Chukchi Sea for 12 days. Cloud particle sensors were ballooned from the ship to analyze the cloud phase, ambient aerosols were regularly sampled on board for chemical analysis, and wave height and wind speed measurements were taken. permanently. Additionally, the researchers performed turbidity measurements at different depths to clarify the relationship between weather and ocean conditions.
After analyzing all the data collected, the scientists managed to paint a clearer and evidence-supported picture. “The Chukchi Sea is relatively shallow, with an average depth of only 40 meters. There, mixed ocean layers develop and infiltrate the seabed, this cloud providing a reservoir of INP which are lifted by turbulent kinetic energy “, explains Dr Inoue, “The spray induced by strong winds and high waves brings these INP into the atmosphere, promoting the formation of ice clouds.“He adds that this is one of the first papers to simultaneously link ocean structure, sea surface conditions, and aerosol and cloud characteristics.
The knowledge gained from this study is very important if we are to accurately predict the effects of global warming on the Arctic. Ice clouds reflect much less shortwave solar radiation than water clouds, and therefore cloud phase greatly affects the surface heat balance of polar regions. They can also increase the amount of snow, which in turn positively affects the formation of sea ice. “Understanding the relationship between cloud formation and the new sea state resulting from the recent decline of sea ice in the Arctic is essential for skillful weather and sea ice forecasting, as well as for future climate projections. .Hopefully, further studies in the Arctic allow us to unravel all the small details and hidden interactions that dictate the weather so that the consequences of climate change do not catch us off guard.
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