17 Feb 2022
17 Feb 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Cloud forcing of surface energy balance from in-situ measurements in diverse mountain glacier environments

Jonathan P. Conway1, Jakob Abermann2,3, Liss M. Andreassen4, M. Farooq Azam5, Nicolas J. Cullen6, Noel Fitzpatrick7,b, Rianne Giesen8,a, Kirsty Langley3, Shelley MacDonell9, Thomas Mölg10, Valentina Radic7, Carleen H. Reijmer8, and Jean-Emmanuel Sicart11 Jonathan P. Conway et al.
  • 1National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Lauder, New Zealand
  • 2Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
  • 3Asiaq – Greenland Survey, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
  • 4Section for Glaciers, Ice and Snow, Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), Oslo, Norway
  • 5Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Indore, India-453552
  • 6School of Geography, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  • 7Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 8Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU), Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • 9Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), Raúl Bitrán 1305, La Serena, Chile
  • 10Climate System Research Group, Institute of Geography, University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), Germany
  • 11Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, Grenoble-INP, Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement (IGE, UMR 5001), F38000 Grenoble, France
  • anow at: Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), De Bilt, The Netherlands
  • bnow at: Climate Services and Research Applications Division, Met Éireann, Dublin, Ireland

Abstract. Clouds are an important component of the climate system, yet our understanding of how they directly and indirectly affect glacier melt in different climates is incomplete. Here we analyse high-quality datasets from 16 mountain glaciers in diverse climates around the globe to better understand how relationships between clouds and near-surface meteorology, radiation, and surface energy balance vary. The seasonal cycle of cloud frequency varies markedly between mountain glacier sites. During the main melt season at each site, an increase in cloud cover is associated with increased vapour pressure and relative humidity but relationships to wind speed are site-specific. At colder sites (average near-surface air temperature in melt season < 0 °C), air temperature generally increases with increasing cloudiness, while for warmer sites (average near-surface air temperature in melt season >> 0 °C) air temperature decreases with increasing cloudiness. At all sites, surface melt is more frequent in cloudy compared to clear-sky conditions. The proportion of melt from temperature-dependent energy fluxes (incoming longwave radiation, turbulent sensible and latent heat) also universally increases in cloudy conditions. However, cloud cover does not affect daily total melt in a universal way, with some sites showing increased melt energy during cloudy conditions and others decreased melt energy. The complex association of clouds with melt energy is not amenable to simple relationships due to many interacting physical processes (varies with latitude, average melt-season air temperature, continentality, season, and elevation) but is most closely related to the effect of clouds on net radiation. These results motivate the use of physics-based surface energy balance models for representing glacier-climate relationships in regional- and global-scale assessments of glacier response to climate change.

Jonathan P. Conway et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Review Comment on tc-2022-24', Anonymous Referee #1, 17 Mar 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2022-24', Anonymous Referee #2, 22 Apr 2022

Jonathan P. Conway et al.

Jonathan P. Conway et al.


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Latest update: 24 May 2022
Short summary
We used data from automatic weather stations on 16 glaciers to show how clouds influence glacier melt in different climates around the world. We found surface melt was always more frequent when it was cloudy but was not universally faster or slower than when there were clear-skies. Also, clouds were related to air temperature in opposite ways in different climates – warmer during cloud in cold climates and vice versa. These results will help us improve how we model past and future glacier melt.