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Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

Analytic solutions to a planetary boundary layer (PBL) model with an eddy-diffusivity profile (i.e., a K profile) and nonlocal fluxes are presented for the quasi-steady regime. The solutions demonstrate how different processes contribute to the quasi-steady profiles of heat and/or other scalars in the convective boundary layer. It is shown that for a standard cubic form of the K profile, and flux scales based on the surface fluxes, the nondimensional nonlocal term should be less than six; larger values can cause scalar profiles of water vapor to increase with height in the upper portion of the PBL and can produce weakly superadiabatic layers in the upper PBL temperature profiles. Solutions are also shown to be sensitive to the choice of flux scale: fluxes scaled by their vertically averaged values imply that nondimensional profiles of top-down scalars will have a neutral point somewhere in the PBL, a result in conflict with previous work on the subject, and the predictions of the same model with fluxes scaled by their surface values. The analysis also shows that allowing K to go to zero with the square of the distance from the PBL top results in nonconvergent profiles; in general K should reduce to some positive value at the top of the PBL, or go to zero less rapidly. It is further shown that the class of models investigated here may be physically interpreted as relaxation models, that is, they tend to relax profiles of scalars in the PBL to implicitly defined similarity profiles on a convective timescale. Finally, analysis of a 1-yr integration of a climate model, interpreted in light of the author’s analytic results, suggests that a dynamically important aspect of the nonlocal term is its role in ventilating the surface layer, and thereby indirectly affecting the diagnoses of PBL depth in many models.

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Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

A prototype problem of a nonprecipitating convective layer growing into a layer of uniform stratification and exponentially decreasing humidity is introduced to study the mechanism by which the cumulus-topped boundary layer grows. The problem naturally admits the surface buoyancy flux, outer layer stratification, and moisture scale as governing parameters. Large-eddy simulations show that many of the well-known properties of the cumulus-topped boundary layer (including a well-mixed subcloud layer, a cloud-base transition layer, a conditionally unstable cloud layer, and an inversion layer) emerge naturally in the simulations. The simulations also quantify the differences between nonprecipitating moist convection and its dry counterpart. Whereas dry penetrative convective layers grow proportionally to the square root of time (diffusively) the cumulus layers grow proportionally to time (ballistically). The associated downward transport of warm, dry air results in a significant decrease in the surface Bowen ratio. The linear-in-time growth of the cloud layer is shown to result from the transport and subsequent evaporation of liquid water into the inversion layer. This process acts as a sink of buoyancy, which acts to imbue the free troposphere with the properties of the cloud layer. A simple model, based on this mechanism, and formulated in terms of an effective dry buoyancy flux (which is constrained by the subcloud layer’s similarity to a dry convective layer), is shown to provide good predictions of the growth of the layer across a wide range of governing parameters.

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Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

Based on research showing that in the case of a strong aerosol forcing, this forcing establishes itself early in the historical record, a simple model is constructed to explore the implications of a strongly negative aerosol forcing on the early (pre-1950) part of the instrumental record. This model, which contains terms representing both aerosol–radiation and aerosol–cloud interactions, well represents the known time history of aerosol radiative forcing as well as the effect of the natural state on the strength of aerosol forcing. Model parameters, randomly drawn to represent uncertainty in understanding, demonstrate that a forcing more negative than −1.0 W m−2 is implausible, as it implies that none of the approximately 0.3-K temperature rise between 1850 and 1950 can be attributed to Northern Hemisphere forcing. The individual terms of the model are interpreted in light of comprehensive modeling, constraints from observations, and physical understanding to provide further support for the less negative (−1.0 W m−2) lower bound. These findings suggest that aerosol radiative forcing is less negative and more certain than is commonly believed.

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Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

This reply addresses a comment questioning one of the lines of evidence I used in a 2015 study (S15) to argue for a less negative aerosol radiative forcing. The comment raises four points of criticism. Two of these have been raised and addressed elsewhere; here I additionally show that even if they have merit the S15 lower bound remains substantially (0.5 W m–2) less negative than that given in the AR5. Regarding the two other points of criticism, one appears to be based on a poor understanding of the nature of S15’s argument; the other rests on speculation as to the nature of the uncertainty in historical SO2 estimates. In the spirit of finding possible flaws with the top-down constraints from S15, I instead hypothesize that an interesting—albeit unlikely—way S15 could be wrong is by inappropriately discounting the contribution of biomass burning to radiative forcing through aerosol–cloud interactions. This hypothesis is interesting as it opens the door for a role for the anthropogenic (biomass) aerosol in causing the Little Ice Age and again raises the specter of greater warming from ongoing reductions in SO2 emissions.

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Simona Bordoni
and
Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

A principal component analysis of the summertime near-surface Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) winds is used to identify the leading mode of synoptic-scale variability of the low-level flow along the Gulf of California during the North American monsoon season. A gulf surge mode emerges from this analysis as the leading EOF, with the corresponding principal component time series interpretable as an objective index for gulf surge occurrence. This index is used as a reference time series for regression analysis and compositing meteorological fields of interest, to explore the relationship between gulf surges and precipitation over the core and marginal regions of the monsoon, as well as the manifestation of these transient events in the large-scale circulation. It is found that, although seemingly mesoscale features confined over the Gulf of California, gulf surges are intimately linked to patterns of large-scale variability of the eastern Pacific ITCZ and greatly contribute to the definition of the northward extent of the monsoonal rains.

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Shouping Wang
and
Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

Large eddy simulation is used to study top-hat parameterizations of second- and third-order scalar statistics in cumulus and stratocumulus cloud-topped boundary layers (CTBLs). Although the top-hat parameterizations based on commonly used conditional sampling methods are a useful approach to modeling the vertical fluxes in the simulated CTBLs, they fail to realistically represent the scalar variances. The reason is that the common sampling methods are based at least in part on the sign of vertical velocity, but not on the sign of the scalars whose variances are represented and that scalars and velocity are not perfectly correlated. Furthermore, the self-correlation nature for a variance means that all the fluctuations contribute to its value, while the top-hat models completely ignore the deviations from the top-hat means and thus considerably degrade the representation of the variance. For the fluxes, however, only the coherent convective elements make the most contribution. Analysis of analytic models and “toy” time series indicates in a more generic setting that the effect of poor correlations between the signal upon which the sampling is based and the signal whose variance is to be represented tends to degrade the ability of top-hat parameterizations to capture the variance. The analysis of toy time series also indicates that variability among individual events within a composite degrades the top-hat representation of the variance more than variability within events. For the vertical velocity–scalar-related third-order moments, the top-hat model gives reasonable estimates for the cumulus CTBL but not for the stratocumulus CTBL. These differences are explained by structural differences (tied to circulation differences in the two CTBLs) in their respective joint probability density functions of vertical velocity and various scalars.

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Irina Sandu
and
Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

Large-eddy simulation (LES) is used to explore the role of various processes in regulating the stratocumulus to cumulus transition (SCT). Simulations are based on a composite case derived from a Lagrangian analysis of 2 yr of data from the northeastern Pacific. The simulations reproduce well the observed transition from a compact stratocumulus layer to more broken fields of cumulus, simply as a response to increasing sea surface temperatures (SSTs) along the transition. In so doing they support earlier theoretical work that argued that the SCT was a response of boundary layer circulations to increased forcing by surface latent heat fluxes. Although the basic features of the SCT imposed by the increase in SST are robust, a variety of other factors affect the detailed character of the SCT. For example, enhanced precipitation or increased downwelling longwave radiative fluxes can accelerate the reduction in cloud cover that accompanies the SCT, while a gradual decrease in the large-scale divergence can make changes in cloud cover that accompany the SCT relatively more modest. The simulations also demonstrate that the pace of the SCT is mainly set by the strength of the temperature inversion capping the initial stratocumulus-topped boundary layer.

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Gilles Bellon
and
Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

A simple framework to study the sensitivity of atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) models to the large-scale conditions and forcings is introduced. This framework minimizes the number of parameters necessary to describe the large-scale conditions, subsidence, and radiation. Using this framework, the sensitivity of the stationary ABL to the large-scale boundary conditions [underlying sea surface temperature (SST) and overlying humidity and temperature in the free troposphere] is investigated in large-eddy simulations (LESs). For increasing SST or decreasing free-tropospheric temperature, the LES exhibits a transition from a cloud-free, well-mixed ABL stationary state, through a cloudy, well-mixed stationary state and a stable shallow cumulus stationary state, to an unstable regime with a deepening shallow cumulus layer. For a warm SST, when increasing free-tropospheric humidity, the LES exhibits a transition from a stable shallow cumulus stationary state, through a stable cumulus-under-stratus stationary state, to an unstable regime with a deepening, cumulus-under-stratus layer. For a cool SST, when increasing the free-tropospheric humidity, the LES stationary state exhibits a transition from a cloud-free, well-mixed ABL regime, through a well-mixed cumulus-capped regime, to a stratus-capped regime with a decoupling between the subcloud and cloud layers.

This dataset can be used to evaluate other ABL models. As an example, the sensitivity of a bulk model based on the mixing-line model is presented. This bulk model reproduces the LES sensitivity to SST and free-tropospheric temperature for the stable and unstable shallow cumulus regimes, but it is less successful at reproducing the LES sensitivity to free-tropospheric humidity for both shallow cumulus and well-mixed regimes.

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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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Cathy Hohenegger
and
Bjorn Stevens

Abstract

Recent studies have pushed forward the idea that congestus clouds, through their moistening of the atmosphere, could promote deep convection. On the other hand, older studies have tended to relate convective initiation to the large-scale forcing. These two views are here contrasted by performing a time-scale analysis. The analysis combines ship observations, large-eddy simulations, and 1 month of brightness temperature measurements with a focus on the tropical Atlantic and adjacent land areas.

The time-scale analysis suggests that previous work may have overstated the importance of congestus moistening in the preconditioning of deep convection. It is found that cumuli congestus transition very rapidly to deep convection, in 2 h over land and 4 h over ocean. This is much faster than the time needed (10 h and longer) by congestus clouds to sufficiently moisten the atmosphere. Moreover, the majority of congestus clouds seem unable to grow into cumulonimbus and the probability of transition does not increase with increasing congestus lifetime (i.e., more moistening). Finally, the presence of cumuli congestus over a given region generally does not enhance the likelihood for deep convection development, either with respect to other regions or to clear-sky conditions. Hence, the results do not support the view of an atmosphere slowly deepening by local moistening, but rather, they may be interpreted as reminiscent of an atmosphere marked by violent and sudden outbursts of convection forced by dynamical effects. This also implies that moisture convergence is more important than local surface fluxes to trigger deep convection over a certain region.

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