Spectral radiance and sky luminance in Antarctica: a case study.


Sky luminance and spectral radiance has been characterised at Neumayer, Antarctica for selected situations during the austral summer 2003/04. Luminance has also been measured at Boulder, Colorado, USA in June 2003. The high reflectivity of the surface (albedo) in Antarctica, reaching values up to 100% in the ultraviolet (UV) and visible part of the solar spectrum due to snow cover, modifies the radiation field considerably when compared to mid-latitudes. A dependence of luminance and spectral radiance on solar zenith angle (SZA) and surface albedo has been identified.

For snow and cloudless sky, the horizon luminance exceeds the zenith luminance by as much as a factor of 8.2 and 7.6 for a SZA of 86° and 48°, respectively. In contrast, over grass this factor amounts to 4.9 for a SZA of 86° and a factor of only 1.4 for a SZA of 48°. Thus, a snow surface with high albedo can enhance horizon brightening compared to grass by a factor of 1.7 for low sun at a SZA of 86° and by a factor of 5 for high sun at a SZA of 48°. For cloudy cases, zenith luminance and radiance exceed the cloudless value by a factor of 10 due to multiple scattering between the cloud base and high albedo surface. Measurements of spectral radiance show increased horizon brightening for increasing wavelengths and generally confirm the findings for luminance.

Good agreement with model results is found for some cases; however there are also large deviations between measured and modelled values especially in the infrared. These deviations can only partly be explained by measurement uncertainties; to completely resolve the differences between model and measurement further studies need to be performed, which will require an improvement of modelling the spectral radiance. From the present study it can be concluded that a change in albedo conditions, which is predicted as a consequence of climate change, will significantly change the radiation conditions in polar regions as well.


Wuttke, S. and Seckmeyer, G., 2006. Spectral radiance and sky luminance in Antarctica: a case study. Theoretical and applied climatology, 85(3-4), pp.131-148.

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