The 27–28 October 1986 FIRE Cirrus Case Study: Meteorology and Clouds

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  • 1 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | 2 Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
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Abstract

Detailed descriptions of the rawinsonde-resolved meteorological conditions (3-hourly soundings) associated with a succession of five distinct mesoscale cirrus cloud regimes, which were observed intensely over a 36-hour period, is given. The synoptic scale systems in which these features were embedded are described and a brief overview of the experiment are given. Regional analyses of the static stability structure and vertical motion are presented and interpreted with respect to the characteristics of the corresponding cloud fields as deduced from satellite and lidar observations. The cloud fields exhibited a high degree of persistent mesoscale organization on scales of 20–500 km reflecting corresponding scales of dynamic and thermodynamic structure/variability as on the synoptic scale. Cloud generation was usually confined to layers less than 1 km deep (typically 0.5 km in depth) and cellular organization was evident in most cases irrespective of the thermal stratification. Multilayered development was prevalent (2–3 layers) and was associated with vertical structure of the temperature and moisture fields resulting primarily from vertical gradients in horizontal advection. One convective generation layer was usually present. Destabilization resulted primarily from advective processes that also led to the formation of a transient stable layer above and/or below the convective layer. Though resembling elevated frontal surfaces, the stable layers were not extensions of surface features. Cloud processes, primarily ice particle fall-out and evaporation, but also including cloud top detrainment, contributed to generating the multilayered structure. Two cases of clouds spawned from an overlying cloud deck were seen where one involved natural seeding of an ice-saturated and conditionally unstable layer in which vigorous convective development was subsequently observed. Subvisual cirrus in the lower stratosphere were found to be associated with prior tropopause features (upwind) where denser cirrus existed. Inferences are drawn with respect to the parameterization of cirrus in large-scale models. In particular, vertical resolution on the order of 0.5 km will probably be required to adequately resolve the forcing required for implementation of a physically-based parameterization. Greater understanding of the nature and causes of the observed mesoscale structure is also needed.

Abstract

Detailed descriptions of the rawinsonde-resolved meteorological conditions (3-hourly soundings) associated with a succession of five distinct mesoscale cirrus cloud regimes, which were observed intensely over a 36-hour period, is given. The synoptic scale systems in which these features were embedded are described and a brief overview of the experiment are given. Regional analyses of the static stability structure and vertical motion are presented and interpreted with respect to the characteristics of the corresponding cloud fields as deduced from satellite and lidar observations. The cloud fields exhibited a high degree of persistent mesoscale organization on scales of 20–500 km reflecting corresponding scales of dynamic and thermodynamic structure/variability as on the synoptic scale. Cloud generation was usually confined to layers less than 1 km deep (typically 0.5 km in depth) and cellular organization was evident in most cases irrespective of the thermal stratification. Multilayered development was prevalent (2–3 layers) and was associated with vertical structure of the temperature and moisture fields resulting primarily from vertical gradients in horizontal advection. One convective generation layer was usually present. Destabilization resulted primarily from advective processes that also led to the formation of a transient stable layer above and/or below the convective layer. Though resembling elevated frontal surfaces, the stable layers were not extensions of surface features. Cloud processes, primarily ice particle fall-out and evaporation, but also including cloud top detrainment, contributed to generating the multilayered structure. Two cases of clouds spawned from an overlying cloud deck were seen where one involved natural seeding of an ice-saturated and conditionally unstable layer in which vigorous convective development was subsequently observed. Subvisual cirrus in the lower stratosphere were found to be associated with prior tropopause features (upwind) where denser cirrus existed. Inferences are drawn with respect to the parameterization of cirrus in large-scale models. In particular, vertical resolution on the order of 0.5 km will probably be required to adequately resolve the forcing required for implementation of a physically-based parameterization. Greater understanding of the nature and causes of the observed mesoscale structure is also needed.

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