Regional flow conditions associated with stratocumulus cloud-eroding boundaries over the southeast Atlantic

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  • 1 Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.
  • 2 Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
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Abstract

Large, abrupt clearing events have been documented in the marine stratocumulus cloud deck over the subtropical Southeast Atlantic Ocean. In these events, clouds are rapidly eroded along a line hundreds–to–thousands of kilometers in length that generally moves westward away from the coast. Because marine stratocumulus clouds exert a strong cooling effect on the planet, any phenomenon that acts to erode large areas of low clouds may be climatically important. Previous satellite-based research suggests that the cloud-eroding boundaries may be caused by westward-propagating atmospheric gravity waves rather than simple advection of the cloud. The behavior of the coastal offshore flow, which is proposed as a fundamental physical mechanism associated with the clearing events, is explored using the Weather Research and Forecasting model. Results are presented from several week-long simulations in the month of May when cloud-eroding boundaries exhibit maximum frequency. Two simulations cover periods containing multiple cloud-eroding boundaries (active periods), and two other simulations cover periods without any cloud-eroding boundaries (null periods). Passive tracers and an analysis of mass flux are used to assess the character of the diurnal west-African coastal circulation. Results indicate that the active periods containing cloud-eroding boundaries regularly experience stronger and deeper nocturnal offshore flow from the continent above the marine boundary layer, compared to the null periods. Additionally, we find that the boundary layer height is higher in the null periods than in the active periods, suggesting that the active periods are associated with areas of thinner clouds that may be more susceptible to cloud erosion.

Current affilitation: Center for Geospatial Analytics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Corresponding author: Laura M. Tomkins, lmtomkin@ncsu.edu

Abstract

Large, abrupt clearing events have been documented in the marine stratocumulus cloud deck over the subtropical Southeast Atlantic Ocean. In these events, clouds are rapidly eroded along a line hundreds–to–thousands of kilometers in length that generally moves westward away from the coast. Because marine stratocumulus clouds exert a strong cooling effect on the planet, any phenomenon that acts to erode large areas of low clouds may be climatically important. Previous satellite-based research suggests that the cloud-eroding boundaries may be caused by westward-propagating atmospheric gravity waves rather than simple advection of the cloud. The behavior of the coastal offshore flow, which is proposed as a fundamental physical mechanism associated with the clearing events, is explored using the Weather Research and Forecasting model. Results are presented from several week-long simulations in the month of May when cloud-eroding boundaries exhibit maximum frequency. Two simulations cover periods containing multiple cloud-eroding boundaries (active periods), and two other simulations cover periods without any cloud-eroding boundaries (null periods). Passive tracers and an analysis of mass flux are used to assess the character of the diurnal west-African coastal circulation. Results indicate that the active periods containing cloud-eroding boundaries regularly experience stronger and deeper nocturnal offshore flow from the continent above the marine boundary layer, compared to the null periods. Additionally, we find that the boundary layer height is higher in the null periods than in the active periods, suggesting that the active periods are associated with areas of thinner clouds that may be more susceptible to cloud erosion.

Current affilitation: Center for Geospatial Analytics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Corresponding author: Laura M. Tomkins, lmtomkin@ncsu.edu
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