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The Role of Cold Pools in Tropical Oceanic Convective Systems

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • | 2 School of Earth Sciences, and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
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Abstract

The processes governing organized tropical convective systems are not completely understood despite their important influences on the tropical atmosphere and global circulation. In particular, cold pools are known to influence the structure and maintenance of midlatitude systems via Rotunno–Klemp–Weisman (RKW) theory, but cold pools may interact differently with tropical convection because of differences in cold pool strength and environmental shear. In this study, the role of cold pools in organized oceanic tropical convective systems is investigated, including their influence on system intensity, mesoscale structure, and propagation. To accomplish this goal, high-resolution idealized simulations are performed for two different systems that are embedded within a weakly sheared cloud population approaching radiative–convective equilibrium. The cold pools are altered by changing evaporation rates below cloud base in a series of sensitivity tests. The simulations demonstrate surprising findings: when cold pools are weakened, the convective systems become more intense. However, their propagation speeds and mesoscale structure are largely unaffected by the cold pool changes. Passive tracers introduced into the cold pools indicate that the convection intensifies when cold pools are weakened because cold pool air is entrained into updrafts, thereby reducing updraft intensity via the cold pools’ initial negative buoyancy. Gravity waves, rather than cold pools, appear to be the important modulators of system propagation and mesoscale structure. These results reconfirm that RKW theory does not fully explain the behavior of tropical oceanic convective systems, even those that otherwise appear consistent with RKW thinking.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Leah D. Grant, leah.grant@colostate.edu

Abstract

The processes governing organized tropical convective systems are not completely understood despite their important influences on the tropical atmosphere and global circulation. In particular, cold pools are known to influence the structure and maintenance of midlatitude systems via Rotunno–Klemp–Weisman (RKW) theory, but cold pools may interact differently with tropical convection because of differences in cold pool strength and environmental shear. In this study, the role of cold pools in organized oceanic tropical convective systems is investigated, including their influence on system intensity, mesoscale structure, and propagation. To accomplish this goal, high-resolution idealized simulations are performed for two different systems that are embedded within a weakly sheared cloud population approaching radiative–convective equilibrium. The cold pools are altered by changing evaporation rates below cloud base in a series of sensitivity tests. The simulations demonstrate surprising findings: when cold pools are weakened, the convective systems become more intense. However, their propagation speeds and mesoscale structure are largely unaffected by the cold pool changes. Passive tracers introduced into the cold pools indicate that the convection intensifies when cold pools are weakened because cold pool air is entrained into updrafts, thereby reducing updraft intensity via the cold pools’ initial negative buoyancy. Gravity waves, rather than cold pools, appear to be the important modulators of system propagation and mesoscale structure. These results reconfirm that RKW theory does not fully explain the behavior of tropical oceanic convective systems, even those that otherwise appear consistent with RKW thinking.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Leah D. Grant, leah.grant@colostate.edu
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