Boundary Layer and Cloud Structure Controls on Tropical Low Cloud Cover Using...

Kubar, T. L., D. E. Waliser, and J.-L. Li (2011), Boundary Layer and Cloud Structure Controls on Tropical Low Cloud Cover Using A-Train Satellite Data and ECMWF Analyses, J. Climate, 24, 194-215, doi:10.1175/2010JCLI3702.1.

The Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO), CloudSat radar, and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) cloud data on the A-Train constellation complemented with the European Centre for Medium-Range Forecasts (ECMWF) analyses are used to investigate the cloud and boundary layer structure across a 108 wide cross section starting at 58S near the international date line and extending to 358N near the California coast from March 2008 to February 2009. The mean large-scale inversion height and low-level cloud tops, which correspond very closely to each other, are very shallow (;500 m) over cold SSTs and high static stability near California and deepen southwestward (to a maximum of ;1.5–2.0 km) along the cross section as SSTs rise. Deep convection near the ITCZ occurs at a surface temperature close to 298 K. While the boundary layer relative humidity (RH) is nearly constant where a boundary layer is well defined, it drops sharply near cloud top in stratocumulus regions, corresponding with strong thermal inversions and water vapor decrease, such that the maximum (2›RH/›z) marks the boundary layer cloud top very well. The magnitude correlates well with low cloud frequency during March–May (MAM), June–August (JJA), and September–November (SON) (r2 5 0.85, 0.88, and 0.86, respectively). Also, CALIPSO and MODIS isolated low cloud frequency generally agree quite well, but CloudSat senses only slightly more than one-third of the low clouds as observed by the other sensors, as many clouds are shallower than 1 km and thus cannot be discerned with CloudSat due to contamination from the strong signal from surface clutter.

Mean tropospheric v between 300 and 700 hPa is examined from the ECMWF Year of Tropical Convection (YOTC) analysis dataset, and during JJA and SON, strong rising motion in the middle troposphere is confined to a range of 2-m surface temperatures between 297 and 300 K, consistent with previous studies that show a narrow range of SSTs over which deep ascent occurs. During December–February (DJF), large-scale ascending motion extends to colder SSTs and high boundary layer stability. A slightly different boundary layer stability metric is derived, the difference of moist static energy (MSE) at the middle point of the inversion (or at 700 hPa if no inversion exists) and the surface, referred to as DMSE. The utility of DMSE is its prediction of isolated uniform low cloud frequency, with very high r2 values of 0.93 and 0.88, respectively, for the MODIS and joint lidar plus radar product during JJA but significantly lower values during DJF (0.46 and 0.40), with much scatter. To quantify the importance of free tropospheric dynamics in modulating the DMSE–low cloud relationships, the frequency as a function of DMSE of rising motion profiles (v , 20.05 Pa s21) is added to the observed low cloud frequency for a maximum hypothetical low cloud frequency. Doing this greatly reduces the interseasonal differences and holds promise for using DMSE for parameterization schemes and examining low cloud feedbacks.

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