The Influence of Land Surface Heterogeneities on Cloud Size Development

Malte Rieck Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, and International Max Planck Research School on Earth System Modelling, Hamburg, Germany

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Cathy Hohenegger Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany

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Chiel C. van Heerwaarden Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany

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Abstract

This study analyzes the effects of land surface heterogeneities at various horizontal scales on the transition from shallow to deep convection and on the cloud size distribution. An idealized case of midlatitude summertime convection is simulated by means of large-eddy simulations coupled to an interactive land surface. The transition is accelerated over heterogeneous surfaces. The simulation with an intermediate patch size of 12.8 km exhibits the fastest transition with a transition time two-thirds that over a homogeneous surface. A similar timing is observed for the precipitation onset whereas the total accumulated rainfall tends to increase with patch size. The cloud size distribution can be approximated by a power law with a scale break. The exponent of the power law is independent of the heterogeneity scale, implying a similar cloud cover between the simulations. In contrast, the scale break varies with patch size. The size of the largest clouds does not scale with the boundary layer height, although their maximum size scales with the patch size. Finally, the idea that larger clouds grow faster, known from homogeneous surface conditions, is not fully valid over heterogeneous surfaces. These various aspects can be understood from the complex interplay between the characteristics of the triggered mesoscale circulations and a cloud development acting in response to the diurnal cycle in surface heating. The results also call for adequate representation of such effects in convective parameterizations.

Corresponding author address: Malte Rieck, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstrasse 53, Hamburg 20146, Germany. E-mail: malte.rieck@mpimet.mpg.de

Abstract

This study analyzes the effects of land surface heterogeneities at various horizontal scales on the transition from shallow to deep convection and on the cloud size distribution. An idealized case of midlatitude summertime convection is simulated by means of large-eddy simulations coupled to an interactive land surface. The transition is accelerated over heterogeneous surfaces. The simulation with an intermediate patch size of 12.8 km exhibits the fastest transition with a transition time two-thirds that over a homogeneous surface. A similar timing is observed for the precipitation onset whereas the total accumulated rainfall tends to increase with patch size. The cloud size distribution can be approximated by a power law with a scale break. The exponent of the power law is independent of the heterogeneity scale, implying a similar cloud cover between the simulations. In contrast, the scale break varies with patch size. The size of the largest clouds does not scale with the boundary layer height, although their maximum size scales with the patch size. Finally, the idea that larger clouds grow faster, known from homogeneous surface conditions, is not fully valid over heterogeneous surfaces. These various aspects can be understood from the complex interplay between the characteristics of the triggered mesoscale circulations and a cloud development acting in response to the diurnal cycle in surface heating. The results also call for adequate representation of such effects in convective parameterizations.

Corresponding author address: Malte Rieck, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstrasse 53, Hamburg 20146, Germany. E-mail: malte.rieck@mpimet.mpg.de
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