What is the role of sea surface temperature in modulating cloud and precipitation properties over the Southern Ocean?

Yi Huang, Steven T. Siems, Michael J. Manton, Daniel Rosenfeld, Roger Marchand, Greg M. McFarquhar, Alain Protat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study employs four years of spatiotemporally collocated A-Train satellite observations to investigate cloud and precipitation characteristics in relation to the underlying properties of the Southern Ocean (SO). Results show that liquid-phase cloud properties strongly correlate with the sea surface temperature (SST). In summer, ubiquitous supercooled liquid water (SLW) is observed over SSTs less than about 4°C. Cloud-top temperature (CTT) and effective radius of liquid-phase clouds generally decrease for colder SSTs, whereas the opposite trend is observed for cloud-top height, cloud optical thickness, and liquid water path. The deduced cloud depth is larger over the colder oceans. Notable differences are observed between "precipitating" and "nonprecipitating" clouds and between different ocean sectors. Using a novel joint SST-CTT histogram, two distinct liquid-phase cloud types are identified, where the retrieved particle size appears to increase with decreasing CTT over warmer water (SSTs >~7°C), while the opposite is true over colder water. A comparison with the Northern Hemisphere (NH) storm-track regions suggests that the ubiquitous SLW with markedly smaller droplet size is a unique feature for the cold SO (occurring where SSTs <~4°C), while the presence of this cloud type is much less frequent over the NH counterparts, where the SSTs are rarely colder than about 4°C at any time of the year. This study also suggests that precipitation, which has a profound influence on cloud properties, remains poorly observed over the SO with the current spaceborne sensors. Large uncertainties in precipitation properties are associated with the ubiquitous boundary layer clouds within the lowest kilometer of the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7453-7476
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number20
StatePublished - 2016


  • Aerosols
  • Air-sea interaction
  • Cloud microphysics
  • Cloud retrieval
  • Clouds
  • Satellite observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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