Climate Dynamics

, Volume 36, Issue 7, pp 1475-1489

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Changes in Arctic clouds during intervals of rapid sea ice loss

  • Steve VavrusAffiliated withCenter for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin Email author 
  • , Marika M. HollandAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , David A. BaileyAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research


We investigate the behavior of clouds during rapid sea ice loss events (RILEs) in the Arctic, as simulated by multiple ensemble projections of the 21st century in the Community Climate System Model (CCSM3). Trends in cloud properties and sea ice coverage during RILEs are compared with their secular trends between 2000 and 2049 during summer, autumn, and winter. The results suggest that clouds promote abrupt Arctic climate change during RILEs through increased (decreased) cloudiness in autumn (summer) relative to the changes over the first half of the 21st century. The trends in cloud characteristics (cloud amount, water content, and radiative forcing) during RILEs are most strongly and consistently an amplifying effect during autumn, the season in which RILEs account for the majority of the secular trends. The total cloud trends in every season are primarily due to low clouds, which show a more robust response than middle and high clouds across RILEs. Lead-lag correlations of monthly sea ice concentration and cloud cover during autumn reveal that the relationship between less ice and more clouds is enhanced during RILEs, but there is no evidence that either variable is leading the other. Given that Arctic cloud projections in CCSM3 are similar to those from other state-of-the-art GCMs and that observations show increased autumn cloudiness associated with the extreme 2007 and 2008 sea ice minima, this study suggests that the rapidly declining Arctic sea ice will be accentuated by changes in polar clouds.


Arctic Clouds Abrupt change Rapid change Sea ice CCSM