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  • Author or Editor: M.P. McCormick x
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G. S. Kent
E. R. Williams
P-H. Wang
M. P. McCormick
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K. M. Skeens


Data from the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment II (SAGE II) solar occultation satellite instrument have been used to study the properties of tropical cloud over the altitude range 10.5–18.5 km. By virtue of its limb viewing measurement geometry, SAGE II has good vertical resolution and sensitivity to subvisual cloud not detectable by most other satellite instruments. The geographical distribution and temporal variation of the cloud occurrence have been examined over all longitudes on timescales from less than 1 day to that of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. Significant variations in cloud occurrence are found on each of these scales and have been compared with the underlying surface temperature changes. Maximum cloud occurs over the warm pool region of the Pacific Ocean, with secondary maxima over the South American and Central African landmasses, where the percentage of cloud occurrence in the upper troposphere can exceed 75%. Cloud occurrence at all altitudes within the Tropics, over both land and ocean, increases with the underlying surface temperature at a rate of approximately 13%°C−1. Extrapolated threshold temperatures for the formation of cloud are about 5°C lower than those found from nadir viewing observations. This difference is believed to be a consequence of the averaging process and the inclusion of outliers in the dataset. ENSO cycle changes in cloud occurrence are observed, not only over the Tropics but also over the subtropics, indicating a difference in the meridional Hadley circulation between ENSO warm and cold years. Sunrise–sunset cloud differences indicate that large-scale variations, whose form resembles that of the Hadley and Walker circulations, are present, with a timescale of 1 day or less. The global distribution of upper-tropospheric ice and its positive correlation with surface temperature on all timescales are generally consistent with the behavior of lightning and the global electrical circuit.

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