Overlaying the cool southeast Pacific Ocean is the most persistent subtropical stratocumulus cloud deck in the world. It produces a profound affect on tropical climate by shading the underlying ocean and radiatively cooling and stirring up turbulence in the atmosphere. In October 2001, the East Pacific Investigation of Climate undertook an exploratory cruise from the Galapagos Islands to Chile. The cruise gathered an unprecedented dataset, integrating radiosonde, surface, cloud remote sensing, aerosol, and ocean measurements. Scientific objectives included measuring the vertical structure of the ABL in this region, understanding what physical processes are determining the stratocumulus cloud albedo, and understanding the fluxes of heat and water that couple the atmosphere and ocean in this region.

An unexpectedly well-mixed stratocumulus-capped boundary layer as a result of a strong inversion was encountered throughout. A strong diurnal cycle was observed, with thicker clouds and substantial drizzle (mainly evaporating above the sea surface) during the late night and early morning. This was driven in part by local diabatic processes, and was reinforced by a surprisingly pronounced diurnal cycle of vertical motion. The vertical motion appears to be an inertia-gravity wave driven by daytime heating over South America that propagates over 1000 km offshore. Much more nocturnal drizzle and pronounced mesoscale cellularity were observed in “clean” conditions when cloud droplet concentrations and aerosol concentrations were low. Entrainment of dry, warm air is inferred to be the primary regulator of cloud thickness in this region, but drizzle also appears to have a large indirect impact by inhibiting and changing the spatial organization of turbulence.

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Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

NOAA/Environmental Technology Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico