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Peter N. Blossey, Christopher S. Bretherton, and Johannes Mohrmann


The goal of this study is to challenge a large-eddy simulation model with a range of observations from a modern field campaign and to develop case studies useful to other modelers. The 2015 Cloud System Evolution in the Trades (CSET) field campaign provided a wealth of in situ and remote sensing observations of subtropical cloud transitions in the summertime northeast Pacific. Two Lagrangian case studies based on these observations are used to validate the thermodynamic, radiative, and microphysical properties of large-eddy simulations (LES) of the stratocumulus to cumulus transition. The two cases contrast a relatively fast cloud transition in a clean, initially well-mixed boundary layer versus a slower transition in an initially decoupled boundary layer with higher aerosol concentrations and stronger mean subsidence. For each case, simulations of two neighboring trajectories sample mesoscale variability and the coherence of the transition in adjacent air masses. In both cases, LES broadly reproduce satellite and aircraft observations of the transition. Simulations of the first case match observations more closely than for the second case, where simulations underestimate cloud cover early in the simulations and overestimate cloud top height later. For the first case, simulated cloud fraction and liquid water path increase if a larger cloud droplet number concentration is prescribed. In the second case, precipitation onset and inversion cloud breakup occur earlier when the LES domain is chosen to be large enough to support strong mesoscale organization.

Open access
Mampi Sarkar, Paquita Zuidema, Bruce Albrecht, Virendra Ghate, Jorgen Jensen, Johannes Mohrmann, and Robert Wood


Three genuine stratocumulus-to-cumulus transitions sampled during the Cloud System Evolution over the Trades (CSET) campaign are documented. The focus is on Lagrangian evolution of in situ precipitation, thought to exceed radar/lidar retrieved values because of Mie scattering. Two of the three initial stratocumulus cases are pristine [cloud droplet number concentrations (N d) of ~22 cm−3] but occupied boundary layers of different depths, while the third is polluted (N d ~ 225 cm−3). Hourly satellite-derived cloud fraction along Lagrangian trajectories indicate that more quickly deepening boundary layers tend to transition faster, into more intense but more occasional precipitation. These transitions begin either in the morning or late afternoon, suggesting that preceding night processes can precondition or delay the inevitable transition. The precipitation shifts toward larger drop sizes throughout the transition as the boundary layers deepen, with aerosol concentrations only diminishing in two of the three cases. Ultraclean (N d < 1 cm−3) cumulus clouds evolved from pristine stratocumulus cloud with unusually high precipitation rates occupying a shallow, well-mixed boundary layer. Results from a simple one-dimensional evaporation model and from radar/lidar retrievals suggest subcloud evaporation likely increases throughout the transition. This, coupled with larger drop sizes capable of lowering the latent cooling profile, facilitates the transition to more surface-driven convection. The coassociation between boundary layer depth and precipitation does not provide definitive conclusions on the isolated effect of precipitation on the pace of the transition. Differences between the initial conditions of the three examples provide opportunities for further modeling studies.

Free access
Johannes Mohrmann, Christopher S. Bretherton, Isabel L. McCoy, Jeremy McGibbon, Robert Wood, Virendra Ghate, Bruce Albrecht, Mampi Sarkar, Paquita Zuidema, and Rabindra Palikonda


Flight data from the Cloud System Evolution over the Trades (CSET) campaign over the Pacific stratocumulus-to-cumulus transition are organized into 18 Lagrangian cases suitable for study and future modeling, made possible by the use of a track-and-resample flight strategy. Analysis of these cases shows that 2-day Lagrangian coherence of long-lived species (CO and O3) is high (r = 0.93 and 0.73, respectively), but that of subcloud aerosol, MBL depth, and cloud properties is limited. Although they span a wide range in meteorological conditions, most sampled air masses show a clear transition when considering 2-day changes in cloudiness (−31% averaged over all cases), MBL depth (+560 m), estimated inversion strength (EIS; −2.2 K), and decoupling, agreeing with previous satellite studies and theory. Changes in precipitation and droplet number were less consistent. The aircraft-based analysis is augmented by geostationary satellite retrievals and reanalysis data along Lagrangian trajectories between aircraft sampling times, documenting the evolution of cloud fraction, cloud droplet number concentration, EIS, and MBL depth. An expanded trajectory set spanning the summer of 2015 is used to show that the CSET-sampled air masses were representative of the season, with respect to EIS and cloud fraction. Two Lagrangian case studies attractive for future modeling are presented with aircraft and satellite data. The first features a clear Sc–Cu transition involving MBL deepening and decoupling with decreasing cloud fraction, and the second undergoes a much slower cloud evolution despite a greater initial depth and decoupling state. Potential causes for the differences in evolution are explored, including free-tropospheric humidity, subsidence, surface fluxes, and microphysics.

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Christopher S. Bretherton, Isabel L. McCoy, Johannes Mohrmann, Robert Wood, Virendra Ghate, Andrew Gettelman, Charles G. Bardeen, Bruce A. Albrecht, and Paquita Zuidema


During the Cloud System Evolution in the Trades (CSET) field study, 14 research flights of the National Science Foundation G-V sampled the stratocumulus–cumulus transition between Northern California and Hawaii and its synoptic variability. The G-V made vertically resolved measurements of turbulence, cloud microphysics, aerosol characteristics, and trace gases. It also carried dropsondes and a vertically pointing W-band radar and lidar. This paper summarizes these observations with the goals of fostering novel comparisons with theory, models and reanalyses, and satellite-derived products. A longitude–height binning and compositing strategy mitigates limitations of sparse sampling and spatiotemporal variability. Typically, a 1-km-deep decoupled stratocumulus-capped boundary layer near California evolved into 2-km-deep precipitating cumulus clusters surrounded by patches of thin stratus that dissipated toward Hawaii. Low cloud cover was correlated with estimated inversion strength more than with cloud droplet number, even though the thickest clouds were generally precipitating and ultraclean layers indicative of aerosol–cloud–precipitation interaction were common west of 140°W. Accumulation-mode aerosol concentration correlated well with collocated cloud droplet number concentration and was typically largest near the surface. Aitken mode aerosol concentration was typically larger in the free troposphere. Wildfire smoke produced spikes of aerosol and trace gases on some flights. CSET data are compared with space–time collocated output from MERRA-2 reanalysis and from the CAM6 climate model run with winds and temperature nudged toward this reanalysis. The reanalysis compares better with the observed relative humidity than does nudged CAM6. Both vertically diffuse the stratocumulus cloud layer versus observations. MERRA-2 slightly underestimates in situ carbon monoxide measurements and underestimates ozone depletion within the boundary layer.

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