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High-Resolution Simulation of Shallow-to-Deep Convection Transition over Land

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
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Abstract

Results are presented from a high-resolution three-dimensional simulation of shallow-to-deep convection transition based on idealization of observations made during the Large-Scale Biosphere–Atmosphere (LBA) experiment in Amazonia, Brazil, during the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM)-LBA mission on 23 February. The doubly periodic grid has 1536 × 1536 × 256 grid cells with horizontal grid spacing of 100 m, thus covering an area of 154 × 154 km2. The vertical resolution varies from 50 m in the boundary layer to 100 m in the free troposphere and gradually coarsens to 250 m near the domain top at 25.4 km. The length of the simulation is 6 h, starting from an early morning sounding corresponding to 0730 local time. Convection is forced by prescribed surface latent and sensible heat fluxes and prescribed horizontally uniform radiative heating

Despite a considerable amount of convective available potential energy (CAPE) in the range of 1600–2400 J kg−1, and despite virtually no convective inhibition (CIN) in the mean sounding throughout the simulation, the cumulus convection starts as shallow, gradually developing into congestus, and becomes deep only toward the end of simulation. Analysis shows that the reason is that the shallow clouds generated by the boundary layer turbulence are too small to penetrate deep into the troposphere, as they are quickly diluted by mixing with the environment. Precipitation and the associated cold pools are needed to generate thermals big enough to support the growth of deep clouds. This positive feedback involving precipitation is supported by a sensitivity experiment in which the cold pools are effectively eliminated by artificially switching off the evaporation of precipitation; in the experiment, the convection remains shallow throughout the entire simulation, with a few congestus but no deep clouds.

The probability distribution function (PDF) of cloud size during the shallow, congestus, and deep phases is analyzed using a new method. During each of the three phases, the shallow clouds dominate the mode of the PDFs at about 1-km diameter. During the deep phase, the PDFs show cloud bases as wide as 4 km. Analysis of the joint PDFs of cloud size and in-cloud variables demonstrates that, as expected, the bigger clouds are far less diluted above their bases than their smaller counterparts. Also, thermodynamic properties at cloud bases are found to be nearly identical for all cloud sizes, with the moist static energy exceeding the mean value by as much as 4 kJ kg−1. The width of the moist static energy distribution in the boundary layer is mostly due to variability of water vapor; therefore, clouds appear to grow from the air with the highest water vapor content available.

No undiluted cloudy parcels are found near the level of neutral buoyancy. It appears that a simple entraining-plume model explains the entrainment rates rather well. The least diluted plumes in the simulation correspond to an entrainment parameter of about 0.1 km−1.

Corresponding author address: Marat Khairoutdinov, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. Email: marat@atmos.colostate.edu

Abstract

Results are presented from a high-resolution three-dimensional simulation of shallow-to-deep convection transition based on idealization of observations made during the Large-Scale Biosphere–Atmosphere (LBA) experiment in Amazonia, Brazil, during the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM)-LBA mission on 23 February. The doubly periodic grid has 1536 × 1536 × 256 grid cells with horizontal grid spacing of 100 m, thus covering an area of 154 × 154 km2. The vertical resolution varies from 50 m in the boundary layer to 100 m in the free troposphere and gradually coarsens to 250 m near the domain top at 25.4 km. The length of the simulation is 6 h, starting from an early morning sounding corresponding to 0730 local time. Convection is forced by prescribed surface latent and sensible heat fluxes and prescribed horizontally uniform radiative heating

Despite a considerable amount of convective available potential energy (CAPE) in the range of 1600–2400 J kg−1, and despite virtually no convective inhibition (CIN) in the mean sounding throughout the simulation, the cumulus convection starts as shallow, gradually developing into congestus, and becomes deep only toward the end of simulation. Analysis shows that the reason is that the shallow clouds generated by the boundary layer turbulence are too small to penetrate deep into the troposphere, as they are quickly diluted by mixing with the environment. Precipitation and the associated cold pools are needed to generate thermals big enough to support the growth of deep clouds. This positive feedback involving precipitation is supported by a sensitivity experiment in which the cold pools are effectively eliminated by artificially switching off the evaporation of precipitation; in the experiment, the convection remains shallow throughout the entire simulation, with a few congestus but no deep clouds.

The probability distribution function (PDF) of cloud size during the shallow, congestus, and deep phases is analyzed using a new method. During each of the three phases, the shallow clouds dominate the mode of the PDFs at about 1-km diameter. During the deep phase, the PDFs show cloud bases as wide as 4 km. Analysis of the joint PDFs of cloud size and in-cloud variables demonstrates that, as expected, the bigger clouds are far less diluted above their bases than their smaller counterparts. Also, thermodynamic properties at cloud bases are found to be nearly identical for all cloud sizes, with the moist static energy exceeding the mean value by as much as 4 kJ kg−1. The width of the moist static energy distribution in the boundary layer is mostly due to variability of water vapor; therefore, clouds appear to grow from the air with the highest water vapor content available.

No undiluted cloudy parcels are found near the level of neutral buoyancy. It appears that a simple entraining-plume model explains the entrainment rates rather well. The least diluted plumes in the simulation correspond to an entrainment parameter of about 0.1 km−1.

Corresponding author address: Marat Khairoutdinov, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. Email: marat@atmos.colostate.edu

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