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Louise Nuijens and Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

The role of wind speed on shallow marine cumulus convection is explored using large-eddy simulations and concepts from bulk theory. Focusing on cases characteristic of the trades, the equilibrium trade wind layer is found to be deeper at stronger winds, with larger surface moisture fluxes and smaller surface heat fluxes. The opposing behavior of the surface fluxes is caused by more warm and dry air being mixed to the surface as the cloud layer deepens. This leads to little difference in equilibrium surface buoyancy fluxes and cloud-base mass fluxes. Shallow cumuli are deeper, but not more numerous or more energetic. The deepening response is necessary to resolve an inconsistency in the subcloud layer. This argument follows from bulk concepts and assumes that the lapse rate and flux divergence of moist-conserved variables do not change, based on simulation results. With that assumption, stronger winds and a fixed inversion height imply larger surface moisture and buoyancy fluxes (heat fluxes are small initially). The consequent moistening tends to decrease cloud-base height, which is inconsistent with a larger surface buoyancy flux that tends to increase cloud-base height, in order to maintain the buoyancy flux at cloud base at a fixed fraction of its surface value (entrainment closure). Deepening the cloud layer by increasing the inversion height resolves this inconsistency by allowing the surface buoyancy flux to remain constant without further moistening the subcloud layer. Because this explanation follows from simple bulk concepts, it is suggested that the internal dynamics (mixing) of clouds is only secondary to the deepening response.

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Louise Nuijens, Bjorn Stevens, and A. Pier Siebesma

Abstract

Quantitative estimates of precipitation in a typical undisturbed trade wind region are derived from 2 months of radar reflectivity data and compared to the meteorological environment determined from soundings, surface flux, and airborne-lidar data. Shallow precipitation was ubiquitous, covering on average about 2% of the region and contributing to at least half of the total precipitation. Echo fractions on the scale of the radar domain range between 0% and 10% and vary greatly within a period from a few hours to a day. Variability in precipitation relates most strongly to variability in humidity and the zonal wind speed, although greater inversion heights and deeper clouds are also evident at times of more rain. The analysis herein suggests that subtle fluctuations in both the strength of the easterlies and in subsidence play a major role in regulating humidity and hence precipitation, even within a given meteorological regime (here, the undisturbed trades).

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Matthias Brueck, Louise Nuijens, and Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

The seasonality in large-scale meteorology and low-level cloud amount (CClow) is explored for a 5° × 5° area in the North Atlantic trades, using 12 years of ERA-Interim and MODIS data, supported by 2 years of Barbados Cloud Observatory (BCO) measurements. From boreal winter to summer, large-scale subsiding motion changes to rising motion, along with an increase in sea surface temperature, a clockwise turning and weakening of low-level winds, and reduced cold-air advection, lower-tropospheric stability (LTS), and surface fluxes. However, CClow is relatively invariant around 30%, except for a minimum of 20% in fall. This minimum is only pronounced when MODIS scenes with large high-level cloud amount are excluded, and a winter maximum in CClow is more pronounced at the BCO. On monthly time scales, wind speed has the best correlation with CClow. Existing large-eddy simulations suggest that the wind speed–CClow correlation may be explained by a direct deepening response of the trade wind layer to stronger winds. Large correlations of wind direction and advection with CClow also suggest that large-scale flow patterns matter. Smaller correlations with CClow are observed for LTS and surface evaporation, as well as negligible correlations for relative humidity (RH) and vertical velocity. However, these correlations considerably increase when only summer is considered. On synoptic time scales, all correlations drop substantially, whereby wind speed, RH, and surface sensible heat flux remain the leading parameters. The lack of a single strong predictor emphasizes that the combined effect of parameters is necessary to explain variations in CClow in the trades.

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Malte Rieck, Louise Nuijens, and Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

The mechanisms that govern the response of shallow cumulus, such as found in the trade wind regions, to a warming of the atmosphere in which large-scale atmospheric processes act to keep relative humidity constant are explored. Two robust effects are identified. First, and as is well known, the liquid water lapse rate increases with temperature and tends to increase the amount of water in clouds, making clouds more reflective of solar radiation. Second, and less well appreciated, the surface fluxes increase with the saturation specific humidity, which itself is a strong function of temperature. Using large-eddy simulations it is shown that the liquid water lapse rate acts as a negative feedback: a positive temperature increase driven by radiative forcing is reduced by the increase in cloud water and hence cloud albedo. However, this effect is more than compensated by a reduction of cloudiness associated with the deepening and relative drying of the boundary layer, driven by larger surface moisture fluxes. Because they are so robust, these effects are thought to underlie changes in the structure of the marine boundary layer as a result of global warming.

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Katrin Lonitz, Bjorn Stevens, Louise Nuijens, Vivek Sant, Lutz Hirsch, and Axel Seifert

Abstract

The signature of aerosols and meteorology on the development of precipitation from shallow cumuli in the trades is investigated with ground-based lidar and radar remote sensing. The measurements are taken from a cloud observatory recently established on the windward shore of Barbados. Cloud microphysical development is explored through an analysis of the radar echo of shallow cumuli before the development of active precipitation. The increase of reflectivity with height (Z gradient) depends on the amount of cloud water, which varies with meteorology, and cloud droplet number concentration N, which varies with the aerosol. Clouds with a large Z gradient have a higher tendency to form precipitation than clouds with a small Z gradient. Under similar meteorological conditions, the Z gradient is expected to be large in an environment with few aerosols and small in an environment with many aerosols. The aerosol environment is defined using three methods, but only one (based on the Raman lidar linear-depolarization ratio) to measure dusty conditions correlates significantly with the Z gradient. On average, nondusty days are characterized by a larger Z gradient. However, the dust concentration varies seasonally and covaries with relative humidity. Large-eddy simulations show that small changes in the relative humidity can have as much influence on the development of precipitation within the cloud layer as large changes in N. When clouds are conditioned on their ambient relative humidity, the sensitivity of the Z gradient to dust vanishes.

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