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An Examination of the Breakup of Marine Stratus: a Three-Dimensional Numerical Investigation

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  • 1 Naval Environmental Prediction Research Facility, Monterey, CA 93943
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Abstract

Cloud top entrainment instability, as a mechanism for the breakup of marine stratus, is examined with a three-dimensional, planetary boundary layer (PBL) model. Specifically, we examine the criterion developed by Randall and Deardorff; this criterion states that stratus will break up if the equivalent potential temperature gradient at cloud top becomes less than a critical value. To examine this hypothesis, we simulate a horizontally uniform stratus layer which is excited from above by small random temperature perturbations. The buoyancy instability ratio (BIR), defined as Δθe(Δθe)crit and computed at cloud top, is calculated locally across the domain and also averaged to define a mean value. Six cases, involving different wind speeds and above-cloud soundings, produce different initial BIRs and different breakup sequences. In general, we find that a mean BIR greater that one is a necessary condition for stratus breakup; however, we also find that the timing of breakup following achievement of the critical ratio is different from run to run. The low wind speed cases, initially most stable at cloud top, are the first to break up, while the higher wind speed (most unstable) cases require longer time to break up. We conclude that an additional mechanism is necessary to stimulate vertical motion in order to take advantage of the cloud-top entrainment instability. In our simulations, that additional stimulation comes from vertical motions generated by Rayleigh-type instability in the PBL.

Abstract

Cloud top entrainment instability, as a mechanism for the breakup of marine stratus, is examined with a three-dimensional, planetary boundary layer (PBL) model. Specifically, we examine the criterion developed by Randall and Deardorff; this criterion states that stratus will break up if the equivalent potential temperature gradient at cloud top becomes less than a critical value. To examine this hypothesis, we simulate a horizontally uniform stratus layer which is excited from above by small random temperature perturbations. The buoyancy instability ratio (BIR), defined as Δθe(Δθe)crit and computed at cloud top, is calculated locally across the domain and also averaged to define a mean value. Six cases, involving different wind speeds and above-cloud soundings, produce different initial BIRs and different breakup sequences. In general, we find that a mean BIR greater that one is a necessary condition for stratus breakup; however, we also find that the timing of breakup following achievement of the critical ratio is different from run to run. The low wind speed cases, initially most stable at cloud top, are the first to break up, while the higher wind speed (most unstable) cases require longer time to break up. We conclude that an additional mechanism is necessary to stimulate vertical motion in order to take advantage of the cloud-top entrainment instability. In our simulations, that additional stimulation comes from vertical motions generated by Rayleigh-type instability in the PBL.

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