02 May 2023
 | 02 May 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Investigating the development of clouds within marine cold air outbreaks

Rebecca J. Murray-Watson, Edward Gryspeerdt, and Tom Goren

Abstract. Marine cold air outbreaks are important parts of the high-latitude climate system, and are characterised by strong surface fluxes generated by the air-sea temperature gradient. These fluxes promote cloud formation, which can be identified in satellite imagery by the distinct transformation of stratiform cloud 'streets' into a broken field of cumuliform clouds downwind of the outbreak. This evolution in cloud morphology changes the radiative properties of the cloud, and therefore is of importance to the surface energy budget. While the drivers of stratocumulus-to-cumulus transitions, such as aerosols or the sea surface temperature gradient, have been extensively studied for subtropical clouds, the factors influencing transitions at higher latitudes are relatively poorly understood. This work uses reanalysis data to create a set of composite trajectories of cold air outbreaks moving off the Arctic ice edge and co-locates these trajectories with satellite data to generate a unique view of cloud development within cold air outbreaks.

The results of this analysis show that clouds embedded in cold-air outbreaks have distinctive properties relative to clouds following other, more stable, trajectories in the region. The initial strength of the outbreak shows a lasting effect on cloud properties, with differences between clouds in strong and weak events visible over 30 hours after the air has left the ice edge. However, while the strength (measured by the magnitude of the marine cold-air outbreak index) of the outbreak affects the magnitude of cloud properties, it does not affect the timing of the transition to cumuliform clouds nor the top-of-atmosphere albedo. In contrast, the initial aerosol concentration does not strongly affect the magnitude of the cloud properties, but aerosol concentration is correlated to cloud break-up, leading to an enhanced cooling effect in clouds moving through high aerosol conditions due to delayed break-up. This evidence of precipitation suppression enhancing cloud lifetime highlights the need for information about aerosol sources at the ice edge to correctly model cloud development. Both the aerosol environment and the strength and frequency of marine cold air outbreaks are expected to change in the future Arctic, and these results provide insight into how these changes will affect the radiative properties of the clouds.

Rebecca J. Murray-Watson et al.

Status: open (until 13 Jun 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-734', Anonymous Referee #1, 12 May 2023 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-734', Anonymous Referee #2, 23 May 2023 reply

Rebecca J. Murray-Watson et al.

Rebecca J. Murray-Watson et al.


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Short summary
Clouds formed in Arctic marine cold air outbreaks undergo a distinct evolution, but the factors controlling their transition high coverage to broken cloud fields are poorly understood. We use satellite and reanalysis data to study how these clouds develop in time and the different influences on their evolution. The aerosol concentration is correlated with cloud break-up; more aerosol is linked to prolonged coverage and a stronger cooling effect, with implications for a more polluted Arctic.