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Yunyan Zhang and Stephen A. Klein

Abstract

Summertime observations for 13 yr at the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Southern Great Plains site are used to study fair-weather shallow cumuli (ShCu). To roughly separate forced from active ShCu, days are categorized into “thin-” or “thick-” ShCu days according to whether the daytime-average cloud depth exceeds 300 m. By comparing diurnal-cycle composites of these two regimes, the authors document differences in cloud properties and their radiative impacts. The differences in environmental conditions provide clues as to what controls ShCu vertical extent.

Higher boundary layer (BL) relative humidity (RH) is found on thick-cloud days, associated with large-scale moisture advection before sunrise. This higher BL RH not only contributes to a lower cloud base but also to the penetrating ability of an air parcel to reach higher levels, and thus leads to larger cloud vertical extent.

Although not as significant as BL RH, ShCu vertical extent also varies with thermal stability and surface fluxes. Enhanced stability above cloud on thin-cloud days may limit cloud vertical extent. A larger sensible heat flux on thin-cloud days encourages greater entrainment of dry air into the BL, whereas a larger latent heat flux on thick-cloud days helps sustain higher afternoon BL RH. These heat flux differences help maintain the BL RH differences that appear to control cloud vertical extent.

This study provides observational evidence that forced clouds are related to BL large-eddy overshoots limited by a stronger inversion whereas higher moisture and a weaker stability above favor active cumuli with greater vertical extent.

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Yunyan Zhang and Stephen A. Klein

Abstract

Summertime observations for 11 yr from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility Southern Great Plains (SGP) site are used to investigate mechanisms controlling the transition from shallow to deep convection over land. It is found that a more humid environment immediately above the boundary layer is present before the start of late afternoon heavy precipitation events. The higher moisture content is brought by wind from the south. Greater boundary layer inhomogeneity in moist static energy, temperature, moisture, and horizontal wind before precipitation begins is correlated to larger rain rates at the initial stage of precipitation. In an examination of afternoon rain statistics, higher relative humidity above the boundary layer is correlated to an earlier onset and longer duration of afternoon precipitation events, whereas greater boundary layer inhomogeneity and atmospheric instability in the 2–4-km layer above the surface are positively correlated to the total rain amount and the maximum rain rate. Although other interpretations may be possible, these observations are consistent with theories for the transition from shallow to deep convection that emphasize the role of a moist lower free troposphere and boundary layer inhomogeneity.

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Yunyan Zhang, Bjorn Stevens, Brian Medeiros, and Michael Ghil

Abstract

This paper explores the capability of the mixed-layer model (MLM) to represent the observed relationship between low-cloud fraction and lower-tropospheric stability; it also investigates the influence of large-scale meteorological fields and their variability on this relationship. The MLM’s local equilibrium solutions are examined subject to realistic boundary forcings that are derived from data of the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Re-Analysis (ERA-40). The MLM is successful in reproducing the positive correlation between low-cloud fraction and lower-tropospheric stability. The most accurate relationship emerges when the forcings capture synoptic variability, in particular, the daily varying large-scale divergence is a leading factor in improving the regression slope.

The feature of the results is mainly attributed to the model cloud fraction’s intrinsic nonlinear response to the divergence field. Given this nonlinearity, the full range of divergence must be accounted for since a broad distribution of divergences will give a better cloud fraction overall, although model biases might still affect individual MLM results. The model cloud fraction responds rather linearly to lower-tropospheric stability, and the distribution of the latter is less sensitive to sampling at different time scales than divergence. The strongest relationship between cloud fraction and stability emerges in the range of intermediate stability values. This conditional dependence is evident in both model results and observations. The observed correlation between cloud fraction and stability may thus depend on the underlying distribution of weather noise, and hence may not be appropriate in situations where such statistics can be expected to change.

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Neil P. Lareau, Yunyan Zhang, and Stephen A. Klein

Abstract

The boundary layer controls on shallow cumulus (ShCu) convection are examined using a suite of remote and in situ sensors at ARM Southern Great Plains (SGP). A key instrument in the study is a Doppler lidar that measures vertical velocity in the CBL and along cloud base. Using a sample of 138 ShCu days, the composite structure of the ShCu CBL is examined, revealing increased vertical velocity (VV) variance during periods of medium cloud cover and higher VV skewness on ShCu days than on clear-sky days. The subcloud circulations of 1791 individual cumuli are also examined. From these data, we show that cloud-base updrafts, normalized by convective velocity, vary as a function of updraft width normalized by CBL depth. It is also found that 63% of clouds have positive cloud-base mass flux and are linked to coherent updrafts extending over the depth of the CBL. In contrast, negative mass flux clouds lack coherent subcloud updrafts. Both sets of clouds possess narrow downdrafts extending from the cloud edges into the subcloud layer. These downdrafts are also present adjacent to cloud-free updrafts, suggesting they are mechanical in origin. The cloud-base updraft data are subsequently combined with observations of convective inhibition to form dimensionless “cloud inhibition” (CI) parameters. Updraft fraction and liquid water path are shown to vary inversely with CI, a finding consistent with CIN-based closures used in convective parameterizations. However, we also demonstrate a limited link between CBL vertical velocity variance and cloud-base updrafts, suggesting that additional factors, including updraft width, are necessary predictors for cloud-base updrafts.

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Peter M. Caldwell, Yunyan Zhang, and Stephen A. Klein

Abstract

Large-scale conditions over subtropical marine stratocumulus areas are extracted from global climate models (GCMs) participating in phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3) and used to drive an atmospheric mixed-layer model (MLM) for current and future climate scenarios. Cloud fraction is computed as the fraction of days where GCM forcings produce a cloudy equilibrium MLM state. This model is a good predictor of cloud fraction and its temporal variations on time scales longer than 1 week but overpredicts liquid water path and entrainment.

GCM cloud fraction compares poorly with observations of mean state, variability, and correlation with estimated inversion strength (EIS). MLM cloud fraction driven by these same GCMs, however, agrees well with observations, suggesting that poor GCM low cloud fraction is due to deficiencies in cloud parameterizations rather than large-scale conditions. However, replacing the various GCM cloud parameterizations with a single physics package (the MLM) does not reduce intermodel spread in low-cloud feedback because the MLM is more sensitive than the GCMs to existent intermodel variations in large-scale forcing. This suggests that improving GCM low cloud physics will not by itself reduce intermodel spread in predicted stratocumulus cloud feedback.

Differences in EIS and EIS change between GCMs are found to be a good predictor of current-climate MLM cloud amount and future cloud change. CMIP3 GCMs predict a robust increase of 0.5–1 K in EIS over the next century, resulting in a 2.3%–4.5% increase in MLM cloudiness. If EIS increases are real, subtropical stratocumulus may damp global warming in a way not captured by the GCMs studied.

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Jungmin M. Lee, Yunyan Zhang, and Stephen A. Klein

Abstract

Idealized large-eddy simulations (LESs) with prescribed heterogeneous land surface heat fluxes are performed to study the impact of the heterogeneity length scale and background wind speed on the development of shallow cumulus and the subsequent transition to congestus/deep convection. We study the impact of land surface heterogeneity in an atmosphere that favors shallow convection but is also conditionally unstable with respect to deeper convection. We find that before the convection transition, larger and thicker shallow cumulus clouds are attached to moisture pools near the PBL top over patches with low evaporative fraction (referred to as “DRY”). This feature is attributable to a surface-induced secondary circulation whose development depends on the heterogeneity size and the background wind speed. With large patches (≥5 km) under zero ambient wind, the secondary mesoscale circulation promotes the vertical transport of moisture forming a moisture pool over DRY patches, while with smaller patches, no such circulation develops. The influence of the background wind on the secondary circulation is strong such that any wind stronger than 2 m s−1 effectively eliminates the impact of surface heterogeneity on the PBL and brings no secondary circulation. This is because the triggered secondary circulation is not strong enough to withstand the imposed background wind. Based on these, we propose two criteria for the convection transition, namely, that the heterogeneity length scale is greater than 5 km and that the background wind speed is less than U c0, where U c0 is the near-surface cross-patch wind speed of the secondary circulation under zero background wind for a given patch size and is about 1.5 m s−1 in our cases.

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Yunyan Zhang, Stephen A. Klein, Jiwen Fan, Arunchandra S. Chandra, Pavlos Kollias, Shaocheng Xie, and Shuaiqi Tang

Abstract

Based on long-term observations by the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program at its Southern Great Plains site, a new composite case of continental shallow cumulus (ShCu) convection is constructed for large-eddy simulations (LES) and single-column models. The case represents a typical daytime nonprecipitating ShCu whose formation and dissipation are driven by the local atmospheric conditions and land surface forcing and are not influenced by synoptic weather events. The case includes early morning initial profiles of temperature and moisture with a residual layer; diurnally varying sensible and latent heat fluxes, which represent a domain average over different land surface types; simplified large-scale horizontal advective tendencies and subsidence; and horizontal winds with prevailing direction and average speed. Observed composite cloud statistics are provided for model evaluation.

The observed diurnal cycle is well reproduced by LES; however, the cloud amount, liquid water path, and shortwave radiative effect are generally underestimated. LES are compared between simulations with an all-or-nothing bulk microphysics and a spectral bin microphysics. The latter shows improved agreement with observations in the total cloud cover and the amount of clouds with depths greater than 300 m. When compared with radar retrievals of in-cloud air motion, LES produce comparable downdraft vertical velocities, but a larger updraft area, velocity, and updraft mass flux. Both observations and LES show a significantly larger in-cloud downdraft fraction and downdraft mass flux than marine ShCu.

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Aaron D. Kennedy, Xiquan Dong, Baike Xi, Shaocheng Xie, Yunyan Zhang, and Junye Chen

Abstract

Atmospheric states from the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) and the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) are compared with data from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (ARM) Southern Great Plains (SGP) site, including the ARM continuous forcing product and Cloud Modeling Best Estimate (CMBE) soundings, during the period 1999–2001 to understand their validity for single-column model (SCM) and cloud-resolving model (CRM) forcing datasets. Cloud fraction, precipitation, and radiation information are also compared to determine what errors exist within these reanalyses. For the atmospheric state, ARM continuous forcing and the reanalyses have good agreement with the CMBE sounding information, with biases generally within 0.5 K for temperature, 0.5 m s−1 for wind, and 5% for relative humidity. Larger disagreements occur in the upper troposphere (p < 300 hPa) for temperature, humidity, and zonal wind, and in the boundary layer (p > 800 hPa) for meridional wind and humidity. In these regions, larger errors may exist in derived forcing products. Significant differences exist for vertical pressure velocity, with the largest biases occurring during the spring upwelling and summer downwelling periods. Although NARR and MERRA share many resemblances to each other, ARM outperforms these reanalyses in terms of correlation with cloud fraction. Because the ARM forcing is constrained by observed precipitation that gives the adequate mass, heat, and moisture budgets, much of the precipitation (specifically during the late spring/early summer) is caused by smaller-scale forcing that is not captured by the reanalyses. While reanalysis-based forcing appears to be feasible for the majority of the year at this location, it may have limited usage during the late spring and early summer, when convection is common at the ARM SGP site. Both NARR and MERRA capture the seasonal variation of cloud fractions (CFs) observed by ARM radar–lidar and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) with high correlations (0.92–0.78) but with negative biases of 14% and 3%, respectively. Compared to the ARM observations, MERRA shows better agreement for both shortwave (SW) and longwave (LW) fluxes except for LW-down (due to a negative bias in water vapor): NARR has significant positive bias for SW-down and negative bias for LW-down under clear-sky and all-sky conditions. The NARR biases result from a combination of too few clouds and a lack of sufficient extinction by aerosols and water vapor in the atmospheric column. The results presented here represent only one location for a limited period, and more comparisons at different locations and longer periods are needed.

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Bjorn Stevens, Anton Beljaars, Simona Bordoni, Christopher Holloway, Martin Köhler, Steven Krueger, Verica Savic-Jovcic, and Yunyan Zhang

Abstract

Data collected in situ as part of the second field study of the Dynamics and Chemistry of Marine Stratocumulus field program are used to evaluate the state of the atmosphere in the region of field operations near 30°N, 120°W during July 2001, as well as its representation by a variety of routinely available data. The routine data include both the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40) and NCEP–NCAR reanalyses, forecasts from their respective forecast systems (the Integrated and Global Forecast Systems), the 30-km archive from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP), the Quick Scatterometer surface winds, and remotely sensed fields derived from radiances measured by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Microwave Imager (TMI), the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit, and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. The analysis shows that outside of the boundary layer the state of the lower troposphere is reasonably represented by the reanalysis and forecast products, with the caveat of a slight warm bias at 850 hPa in the NCEP–NCAR products. Within the planetary boundary layer (PBL) the agreement is not as good: both the boundary layer depth and cloud amount are underpredicted, and the boundary layer temperature correlates poorly with the available data, which may be related to a poor representation of SSTs in this region of persistent cloud cover. ERA-40 also suffers from persistently weak zonal winds within the PBL. Among the satellite records the ISCCP data are found to be especially valuable, evincing skill in both predicting boundary layer depth (from cloud-top temperatures and TMI surface temperatures) and cloud liquid water paths (from cloud optical depths). An analysis of interannual variability (among Julys) based on ERA-40 and the 1983–2001 ISCCP record suggests that thermodynamic quantities show similar interannual and synoptic variability, principally concentrated just above the PBL, while dynamic quantities vary much more on synoptic time scales. Furthermore, the analysis suggests that the correlation between stratocumulus cloud amount and lower-tropospheric stability exhibits considerable spatial structure and is less pronounced than previously thought.

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Cheng Tao, Yunyan Zhang, Qi Tang, Hsi-Yen Ma, Virendra P. Ghate, Shuaiqi Tang, Shaocheng Xie, and Joseph A. Santanello

Abstract

Using the 9-yr warm-season observations at the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Southern Great Plains site, we assess the land–atmosphere (LA) coupling in the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) and two climate models: hindcasts with the Community Atmosphere Model version 5.1 by Cloud-Associated Parameterizations Testbed (CAM5-CAPT) and nudged runs with the Energy Exascale Earth System Model Atmosphere Model version 1 Regionally Refined Model (EAMv1-RRM). We focus on three local convective regimes and diagnose model behaviors using the local coupling metrics. NARR agrees well with observations except a slightly warmer and drier surface with higher downwelling shortwave radiation and lower evaporative fraction. On clear-sky days, it shows warmer and drier early-morning conditions in both models with significant underestimates in surface evaporation by EAMv1-RRM. On the majority of the ARM-observed shallow cumulus days, there is no or little low-level clouds in either model. When captured in models, the simulated shallow cumulus shows much less cloud fraction and lower cloud bases than observed. On the days with late-afternoon deep convection, models tend to present a stable early-morning lower atmosphere more frequently than the observations, suggesting that the deep convection is triggered more often by elevated instabilities. Generally, CAM5-CAPT can reproduce the local LA coupling processes to some extent due to the constrained early-morning conditions and large-scale winds. EAMv1-RRM exhibits large precipitation deficits and warm and dry biases toward mid-to-late summers, which may be an amplification through a positive LA feedback among initial atmosphere and land states, convection triggering and large-scale circulations.

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