Satellite Observations of an Unusual Cloud Formation near the Tropopause

Ferlay, N., T. J. Garrett, and F. Minvielle (2014), Satellite Observations of an Unusual Cloud Formation near the Tropopause, J. Atmos. Sci., 71, 3801-3815, doi:10.1175/JAS-D-13-0361.1.

This paper describes observations of a field of deep and regular cloud formations that spans several hundreds of kilometers at the top of a midlatitude frontal system in the North Pacific storm track. Space-based imagery of the event from active and passive measurements reveals smooth, clearly defined cloud lobes approximately 10 km across and 2–4 km deep that resemble upside-down mammatus. These observations, together with theoretical arguments and prior modeling work, suggest that the lobes were part of a deepening turbulent mixed layer that formed as a consequence of strong cloud-top radiative cooling. Over the course of a day, the cloud-top formation evolved to leave behind a sheet of cumuliform cirrus that stretched hundreds of kilometers across. The potential is for such clouds to facilitate mixing across the tropopause, much as cloudtop cooling drives the entrainment of free-tropospheric air into stratocumulus-topped boundary layers.

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