Cloud forcing in Arctic polynyas: Climatology, parameterization, and modeling

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Meteorology and Physical Oceanography

First Committee Member

Peter J. Minnett, Committee Chair


Cloud and radiation data gathered in four polynyas across the Western Arctic span a decade of extreme environmental variability that culminated in the furthest retreat of sea ice cover on satellite record. These polynyas, oases of open water within the pack ice, are areas of intense surface exchange and serve as small-scale natural models of all active polar processes. Each of the studied polynyas is uniquely forced and maintained, resulting in an ensemble which representatively samples pan-Arctic variability. Cloud amount in each polynya, as analyzed to WMO standards by a meteorologist from time-lapse imagery collected using a hemispheric mirror, exceeded previous observational estimates of 80%. Calculations of surface cloud radiative forcing point to Arctic clouds' tendency toward scattering incoming shortwave radiation over re-emission of radiation in the longwave from cloud base. Sensitivity of this cloud forcing to variations in albedo, aerosol loading, and cloud microphysics, calculated with a polar-optimized radiative transfer model, indicate that small changes in snow and ice cover elicit stronger responses than heavy aerosol loading, changing particle effective radius, or liquid water content, especially at small solar zenith angles. Results obtained locally within polynyas are given regional relevance through the use of CASPR (Cloud and Surface Parameter Retrieval) algorithms and AVHRR Polar Pathfinder data.


Physical Oceanography; Physics, Atmospheric Science; Physics, Radiation; Remote Sensing

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