A Theoretical and Observational Analysis on the Formation of Fair-Weather Cumuli

Ping Zhu MPO/RSMAS, University of Miami, Miami, Florida

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Bruce Albrecht MPO/RSMAS, University of Miami, Miami, Florida

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Abstract

The formation of fair-weather cumuli (FWC) has been analyzed in this study based on both a simple mixed layer model and a subset of the data collected from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program at the southern Great Plains (SGP) site. By analyzing conditions for the formation of FWC, the authors illustrate how different processes—such as the surface heat fluxes, the surface thermodynamic conditions, the entrainment processes at the boundary layer top, the vertical thermodynamic structure above the boundary layer, and large-scale subsidence—control the formation of clouds. The results of the analysis show that it is the highly nonlinear interaction among these factors that gives rise to the formation of FWC. For this reason, the occurrence of FWC may not simply follow changes in the surface conditions. The analysis indicates that the entrainment of moisture and surface processes play important roles in the formation of FWC, and the net effects of these processes can be evaluated by a parameter (l − β2)/B, where β2 is the ratio between the entrainment moisture flux and the surface moisture flux, and B is the extended Bowen ratio defined as the ratio of the surface buoyancy flux to the surface latent heat flux. The stratification above the inversion is another key parameter that influences cloud formation. The weaker the stability, the greater the potential for cloud formation. In most situations the net effect of subsidence is to reduce the relative humidity at the top of the mixed layer and thus is unfavorable for cloud formation, but the intensity of this reduction may vary depending on conditions of the boundary layer. In some specific conditions such as a moist boundary layer over an area with relatively small surface Bowen ratio, the net effect of subsidence on the relative humidity budget at the top of the mixed layer can be weak even though subsidence reduces the mixed layer depth substantially. In this study, some issues related to cloud onset and fractional cloudiness are also discussed based on the ARM SGP observational data.

Corresponding author address: Ping Zhu, MPO/RSMAS, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149-1098. Email: pzhu@rsmas.miami.edu

Abstract

The formation of fair-weather cumuli (FWC) has been analyzed in this study based on both a simple mixed layer model and a subset of the data collected from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program at the southern Great Plains (SGP) site. By analyzing conditions for the formation of FWC, the authors illustrate how different processes—such as the surface heat fluxes, the surface thermodynamic conditions, the entrainment processes at the boundary layer top, the vertical thermodynamic structure above the boundary layer, and large-scale subsidence—control the formation of clouds. The results of the analysis show that it is the highly nonlinear interaction among these factors that gives rise to the formation of FWC. For this reason, the occurrence of FWC may not simply follow changes in the surface conditions. The analysis indicates that the entrainment of moisture and surface processes play important roles in the formation of FWC, and the net effects of these processes can be evaluated by a parameter (l − β2)/B, where β2 is the ratio between the entrainment moisture flux and the surface moisture flux, and B is the extended Bowen ratio defined as the ratio of the surface buoyancy flux to the surface latent heat flux. The stratification above the inversion is another key parameter that influences cloud formation. The weaker the stability, the greater the potential for cloud formation. In most situations the net effect of subsidence is to reduce the relative humidity at the top of the mixed layer and thus is unfavorable for cloud formation, but the intensity of this reduction may vary depending on conditions of the boundary layer. In some specific conditions such as a moist boundary layer over an area with relatively small surface Bowen ratio, the net effect of subsidence on the relative humidity budget at the top of the mixed layer can be weak even though subsidence reduces the mixed layer depth substantially. In this study, some issues related to cloud onset and fractional cloudiness are also discussed based on the ARM SGP observational data.

Corresponding author address: Ping Zhu, MPO/RSMAS, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149-1098. Email: pzhu@rsmas.miami.edu

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