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The Spatio-Temporal Cloud Frequency Distribution in the Galapagos Archipelago as Seen from MODIS Cloud Mask Data

Zander, Samira; Turini, Nazli; Ballari, Daniela; Bayas López, Steve Darwin; Celleri, Rolando; Delgado Maldonado, Byron; Orellana-Alvear, Johanna; Schmidt, Benjamin; Scherer, Dieter; Bendix, Jörg

Clouds play an important role in the climate system; nonetheless, the relationship between climate change in general and regional cloud occurrence is not yet well understood. This particularly holds for remote areas such as the iconic Galapagos archipelago in Ecuador. As a first step towards a better understanding, we analyzed the spatio-temporal patterns of cloud cover over Galapagos. We found that cloud frequency and distribution exhibit large inter- and intra-annual variability due to the changing influence of climatic drivers (trade winds, sea surface temperature, El Niño/La Niña events) and spatial variations due to terrain characteristics and location within the archipelago. The highest cloud frequencies occur in mid-elevations on the slopes exposed to the southerly trade winds (south-east slopes). Towards the highlands ( >900 m a.s.l), cloud frequency decreases, with a sharp leap towards high-level crater areas mainly on Isabela Island that frequently immerse into the trade inversion layer. With respect to the diurnal cycle, we found a lower cloud frequency over the islands in the evening than in the morning. Seasonally, cloud frequency is higher during the hot season (January–May) than in the cool season (June–December). However, spatial differences in cloudiness were more pronounced during the cool season months. We further analyzed two periods beyond average atmospheric forcing. During El Niño 2015, the cloud frequency was higher than usual, and differences between altitudes and aspects were less pronounced. La Niña 2007 led to negative anomalies in cloud frequency over the islands, with intensified differences between altitude and aspect.
Published in: Atmosphere, 10.3390/atmos14081225, MDPI