Formation of Arctic Stratocumuli Through Atmospheric Radiative Cooling

Lucien F. Simpfendoerfer, Johannes Verlinde, Jerry Y. Harrington, Matthew D. Shupe, Yao Sheng Chen, Eugene E. Clothiaux, Jean Christophe Golaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Stratocumulus clouds are important to the Arctic climate because they are prevalent and exert a strong radiative forcing on the surface. However, relatively little is known about how stratocumulus clouds form in the Arctic. In this study, radiative transfer calculations are used to show that the timescale over which stably stratified Arctic temperature and water vapor profiles cool to saturation is less than typical residence times for individual air parcels in the Arctic. This result is consistent with previous studies in suggesting that elevated stratocumulus can form naturally through clear-sky radiative cooling during all seasons, without assistance from frontal lifting or other atmospheric forcing. Single column model simulations of the cloud formation process, after radiative cooling has resulted in saturation in a stably stratified profile, suggest that stratocumulus cloud properties are sensitive to the characteristics of the environment in which the formation process takes place. For example, sensitivity tests suggest that clouds may attain liquid water paths of over 50 g/m2 if they form in moist environments but may become locked in a low-liquid water path quasi steady state or dissipate within hours if they form in dry environments. A potential consequence of these sensitivities is that when an Arctic stratocumulus layer forms by radiative cooling, it is more likely to become optically thick, optically thin, or dissipate than it is to obtain an intermediate optical thickness. This could help explain why the cloudy and radiatively clear atmospheric states are so prevalent across the Arctic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9644-9664
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 27 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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