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B. Gasparini, A. Meyer, D. Neubauer, S. Münch, and U. Lohmann


Cirrus clouds impact the planetary energy balance and upper-tropospheric water vapor transport and are therefore relevant for climate. In this study cirrus clouds at temperatures colder than −40°C simulated by the ECHAM–Hamburg Aerosol Module (ECHAM-HAM) general circulation model are compared to Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satellite data. The model captures the general cloud cover pattern and reproduces the observed median ice water content within a factor of 2, while extinction is overestimated by about a factor of 3 as revealed by temperature-dependent frequency histograms. Two distinct types of cirrus clouds are found: in situ–formed cirrus dominating at temperatures colder than −55°C and liquid-origin cirrus dominating at temperatures warmer than −55°C. The latter cirrus form in anvils of deep convective clouds or by glaciation of mixed-phase clouds, leading to high ice crystal number concentrations. They are associated with extinction coefficients and ice water content of up to 1 km−1 and 0.1 g m−3, respectively, while the in situ–formed cirrus are associated with smaller extinction coefficients and ice water content. In situ–formed cirrus are nucleated either heterogeneously or homogeneously. The simulated homogeneous ice crystals are similar to liquid-origin cirrus, which are associated with high ice crystal number concentrations. On the contrary, heterogeneously nucleated ice crystals appear in smaller number concentrations. However, ice crystal aggregation and depositional growth smooth the differences between several formation mechanisms, making the attribution to a specific ice nucleation mechanism challenging.

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Blaž Gasparini, Adam B. Sokol, Casey J. Wall, Dennis L. Hartmann, and Peter N. Blossey


Satellite observations of tropical maritime convection indicate an afternoon maximum in anvil cloud fraction that cannot be explained by the diurnal cycle of deep convection peaking at night. We use idealized cloud-resolving model simulations of single anvil cloud evolution pathways, initialized at different times of the day, to show that tropical anvil clouds formed during the day are more widespread and longer lasting than those formed at night. This diurnal difference is caused by shortwave radiative heating, which lofts and spreads anvil clouds via a mesoscale circulation that is largely absent at night, when a different, longwave-driven circulation dominates. The nighttime circulation entrains dry environmental air that erodes cloud top and shortens anvil lifetime. Increased ice nucleation in more turbulent nighttime conditions supported by the longwave cloud-top cooling and cloud-base heating dipole cannot compensate for the effect of diurnal shortwave radiative heating. Radiative–convective equilibrium simulations with a realistic diurnal cycle of insolation confirm the crucial role of shortwave heating in lofting and sustaining anvil clouds. The shortwave-driven mesoscale ascent leads to daytime anvils with larger ice crystal size, number concentration, and water content at cloud top than their nighttime counterparts.

Significance Statement

Deep convective activity and rainfall peak at night over the tropical oceans. However, anvil clouds that originate from the tops of deep convective clouds reach their largest extent in the afternoon hours. We study the underlying physical mechanisms that lead to this discrepancy by simulating the evolution of anvil clouds with a high-resolution model. We find that the absorption of sunlight by ice crystals lofts and spreads the daytime anvil clouds over a larger area, increasing their lifetime, changing their properties, and thus influencing their impact on climate. Our findings show that it is important not only to simulate the correct onset of deep convection but also to correctly represent anvil cloud evolution for skillful simulations of the tropical energy balance.

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