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Christopher S. Bretherton and Matthew C. Wyant


Decoupling during the “Lagrangian” evolution of a cloud-topped boundary layer advected equatorward by the trade winds in an idealized eastern subtropical ocean is studied using a mixed-layer model (MLM). The sea surface temperature is gradually warmed while the free tropospheric sounding remains unchanged, causing the boundary layer to deepen, the surface relative humidity to decrease, and surface latent heat fluxes to increase. Diurnally averaged insolation is used.

For entrainment closures in which entrainment rate is related to a large-eddy convective velocity scale w*, the MLM predicts an increasingly prominent layer of negative buoyancy fluxes below cloud base as the sea surface temperature warms. Decoupling of the mixed layer can be inferred when the MLM-predicted negative buoyancy fluxes become too large for the internal circulations to sustain. The authors show that decoupling is mainly driven by an increasing ratio of the surface latent heat flux to the net radiative cooling in the cloud, and derive a decoupling criterion based on this ratio. Other effects such as drizzle, the vertical distribution of radiative cooling in the cloud, and sensible heat fluxes, also affect decoupling but are shown to be less important in typical subtropical boundary layers. A comparison of MLM results with a companion numerical study with a cloud-resolving model shows that the decoupling process is similar and the same decoupling criterion applies. A regional analysis of decoupling using Lagrangian trajectories based on summertime northeast Pacific climatology predicts decoupling throughout the subtropical stratocumulus region except in coastal zones where the boundary layer is under 750 m deep.

A “flux-partitioning” entrainment closure, in which the entrainment rate is chosen to maintain a specified ratio of some measure of negative subcloud buoyancy fluxes to positive buoyancy fluxes within the cloud and near the surface, was also considered. By construction, such an MLM never predicts its own breakdown by decoupling. The changed entrainment closure had only a minor influence on the boundary layer evolution and entrainment rate. Instead, the crucial impact of the entrainment closure is on predicting when and where the mixed-layer assumption will break down due to decoupling.

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Matthew C. Wyant, Christopher S. Bretherton, Hugh A. Rand, and David E. Stevens


A two-dimensional eddy-resolving model is used to study the transition from the stratocumulus topped boundary layer to the trade cumulus boundary layer. The 10-day simulations use an idealized Lagrangian trajectory representative of summertime climatological conditions in the subtropical northeastern Pacific. The sea surface temperature is increased steadily at 1.5 K day−1, reflecting the southwestward advection of the subtropical marine boundary layer by the trade winds, while the free tropospheric temperature remains unchanged. Results from simulations with both a fixed diurnally averaged shortwave radiative forcing and a diurnally varying shortwave forcing are presented.

A two-stage model for the boundary layer evolution consistent with these simulations is proposed. In the first stage, decoupling is induced by increased latent heat fluxes in the deepening boundary layer. After decoupling, cloud cover remains high, but the cloudiness regime changes from a single stratocumulus layer to sporadic cumulus that detrain into stratocumulus clouds. In the second stage, farther SST increase causes the cumuli to become deeper and more vigorous, penetrating farther into the inversion and entraining more and more dry above-inversion air. This evaporates liquid water in cumulus updrafts before they detrain, causing the eventual dissipation of the overlying stratocumulus. Diurnal variations of insolation lead to a large daytime reduction in stratocumulus cloud amount, but they have little impact on the systematic evolution of boundary layer structure and cloud. The simulated cloudiness changes are not consistent with existing criteria for cloud-top entrainment instability.

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Robert Wood, Matthew Wyant, Christopher S. Bretherton, Jasmine Rémillard, Pavlos Kollias, Jennifer Fletcher, Jayson Stemmler, Simone de Szoeke, Sandra Yuter, Matthew Miller, David Mechem, George Tselioudis, J. Christine Chiu, Julian A. L. Mann, Ewan J. O’Connor, Robin J. Hogan, Xiquan Dong, Mark Miller, Virendra Ghate, Anne Jefferson, Qilong Min, Patrick Minnis, Rabindra Palikonda, Bruce Albrecht, Ed Luke, Cecile Hannay, and Yanluan Lin


The Clouds, Aerosol, and Precipitation in the Marine Boundary Layer (CAP-MBL) deployment at Graciosa Island in the Azores generated a 21-month (April 2009–December 2010) comprehensive dataset documenting clouds, aerosols, and precipitation using the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (ARM) Mobile Facility (AMF). The scientific aim of the deployment is to gain improved understanding of the interactions of clouds, aerosols, and precipitation in the marine boundary layer.

Graciosa Island straddles the boundary between the subtropics and midlatitudes in the northeast Atlantic Ocean and consequently experiences a great diversity of meteorological and cloudiness conditions. Low clouds are the dominant cloud type, with stratocumulus and cumulus occurring regularly. Approximately half of all clouds contained precipitation detectable as radar echoes below the cloud base. Radar and satellite observations show that clouds with tops from 1 to 11 km contribute more or less equally to surface-measured precipitation at Graciosa. A wide range of aerosol conditions was sampled during the deployment consistent with the diversity of sources as indicated by back-trajectory analysis. Preliminary findings suggest important two-way interactions between aerosols and clouds at Graciosa, with aerosols affecting light precipitation and cloud radiative properties while being controlled in part by precipitation scavenging.

The data from Graciosa are being compared with short-range forecasts made with a variety of models. A pilot analysis with two climate and two weather forecast models shows that they reproduce the observed time-varying vertical structure of lower-tropospheric cloud fairly well but the cloud-nucleating aerosol concentrations less well. The Graciosa site has been chosen to be a permanent fixed ARM site that became operational in October 2013.

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