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Radiative Effects of Cloud Horizontal Inhomogeneity and Vertical Overlap Identified from a Monthlong Cloud-Resolving Model Simulation

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  • 1 Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
  • | 2 Illinois State Water Survey, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
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Abstract

The representation of subgrid horizontal and vertical variability of clouds in radiation schemes remains a major challenge for general circulation models (GCMs) due to the lack of cloud-scale observations and incomplete physical understanding. The development of cloud-resolving models (CRMs) in the last decade provides a unique opportunity to make progress in this area of research. This paper extends the study of Wu and Moncrieff to quantify separately the impacts of cloud horizontal inhomogeneity (optical property) and vertical overlap (geometry) on the domain-averaged shortwave and longwave radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere and the surface, and the radiative heating profiles. The diagnostic radiation calculations using the monthlong CRM-simulated tropical cloud optical properties and cloud fraction show that both horizontal inhomogeneity and vertical overlap of clouds are equally important for obtaining accurate radiative fluxes and heating rates. This study illustrates an objective approach to use long-term CRM simulations to separate cloud overlap and inhomogeneity effects, based on which GCM representation (such as mosaic treatment) of subgrid cloud–radiation interactions can be evaluated and improved.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Xiaoqing Wu, Iowa State University, 3010 Agronomy Hall, Ames, IA 50011. Email: wuxq@iastate.edu

Abstract

The representation of subgrid horizontal and vertical variability of clouds in radiation schemes remains a major challenge for general circulation models (GCMs) due to the lack of cloud-scale observations and incomplete physical understanding. The development of cloud-resolving models (CRMs) in the last decade provides a unique opportunity to make progress in this area of research. This paper extends the study of Wu and Moncrieff to quantify separately the impacts of cloud horizontal inhomogeneity (optical property) and vertical overlap (geometry) on the domain-averaged shortwave and longwave radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere and the surface, and the radiative heating profiles. The diagnostic radiation calculations using the monthlong CRM-simulated tropical cloud optical properties and cloud fraction show that both horizontal inhomogeneity and vertical overlap of clouds are equally important for obtaining accurate radiative fluxes and heating rates. This study illustrates an objective approach to use long-term CRM simulations to separate cloud overlap and inhomogeneity effects, based on which GCM representation (such as mosaic treatment) of subgrid cloud–radiation interactions can be evaluated and improved.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Xiaoqing Wu, Iowa State University, 3010 Agronomy Hall, Ames, IA 50011. Email: wuxq@iastate.edu

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