Clouds & aerosols over the Southern Ocean

Cloud bank, photo by David Allen

Reducing biases in the representation of clouds and aerosols in the NZESM

Clouds have a massive effect on climate. Cloud cover reflects radiation from the sun that would otherwise be absorbed by oceans, raising their temperatures. Cloud cover can also act as a blanket, keeping warmth near the surface.

  • Project duration: 2015-2019
  • Project funding: $1.8m 

Despite their significant influence on climate, clouds represent one of the largest sources of uncertainty in modern climate models. For example, the frequency of clouds over the Southern Ocean is often underestimated, causing models to predict storm tracks incorrectly and warmer sea temperatures than actually observed. These biases also affect the sensitivity of the model to human-induced climate drivers, such as increasing greenhouse gases.

This project will improve our understanding of the chemistry and physics of clouds and aerosols in the Southern Ocean, by combining detailed measurements made during voyages with satellite observations and modelling studies. We recently completed our first measurement voyage on the RV Tangaroa, which saw researchers travel to the Campbell Plateau, while making measurements from the ship and launching instrumented balloons.

Improving our understanding of clouds and incorporating this understanding into the NZ Earth System Model is critical, as these processes significantly affect New Zealand’s climate and have influences as far away as the tropics.

Primary Contact and Principle Investigator:

  • Associate Professor Adrian McDonald, University of Canterbury,

Adrian’s main research interests are associated with understanding the coupling between different regions of the atmosphere. His work involves the use of a range of remotely sensed observations from radar and satellite instruments and data from reanalyses and other models. More information on Adrian’s work can be found here.

Project partners:

  • University of Canterbury
  • NIWA
  • University of Auckland
  • UK Met Office

Other Processes and Observations funded projects:

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